Excessive praise does more harm than good?

Excessive praise does more harm than good?

It’s natural for parents to heap extra praise on children who they feel have low self-esteem, but recent research indicates that this may actually do more harm than good.

The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that while children with high self-esteem thrived with so-called inflated praise, children with low self-esteem were less likely to participate in new challenges when adults praise them in an excessive manner.

Inflated praise, for the purposes of this research, meant small changes in the praise given to children that involved using one additional word. So, for example, “You’re good at this,” became “you’re incredibly good at this.”

Three related studies were conducted. In one study, 240 children drew a famous van Gogh painting and then each received inflated, non-inflated or no praise in note form from someone identified as a “professional painter.”

Once they received the note, they were told they would be drawing another picture, which was up to them to choose. They could pick from pictures that were easy to do, but they wouldn’t learn much or more difficult pictures where many mistakes might be made, but they’d learn a lot.

Results revealed that children with low self-esteem who had received inflated praise were more likely to choose the easier pictures, while those with high self-esteem who received inflated praise were more likely to choose more difficult pictures.

The study authors concluded that inflate praise may exert too much pressure on children with self-esteem.

Rev. Stacey Jutila, vice president of mission and spiritual care for Advocate Children’s Hospital, agrees. “Although intentions by adults may be genuine, to support children with added praise, our best intentions may backfire, as this research demonstrates,” she says.

“Along with being mindful of providing appropriate encouragement, it is also important to explore ways that children can talk about when things don’t go as well as we, or someone else, had hoped,” says Jutila. “When a child doesn’t make the starting lineup or get the top score on a spelling test, it is important that the child has people who will honestly and genuinely talk about disappointments and the realities that we don’t always get the top score or accolades.”

She adds that “one way families can create space to talk about the times that we don’t achieve our goals is to have time at the dinner table where we talk about highs and lows of the day, or gifts and challenges in our days.”

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  1. Michael Aisenberg January 8, 2014 at 3:17 pm · Reply

    Similar research has been around for a long time. Especially noteworthy is the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, who speaks about children’s “mindsets” about themselves (i.e. self-esteem) as well as about their capacities to learn and/or perform. “Fixed”-mindset kids believe their capacities are inherent, speak to who they are, and often shy-away from challenges; they’d rather be correct than risk errors toward the goal of learning. “Growth”-mindset kids believe their capacties are a funciton of their energy/effort, and does not define who they are as pepole. These children enjoy challenges and risks, toward the goal of learning. Similarly in Dr. Dweck’s research, how we speak to children effects their self-view. “You’re great at that” reinforces a child’s perceived capacity in a fixed way; whereas, “You worked really hard at that” reinforces the process required to succeed, in a growth-oriented way. In the current and Dr. Dweck’s studies, what we say and how we say it significantly impacts children.

  2. I’ve felt that this was true for some time. Extremes on either end usually produce bad results.

  3. I agree either extreme produces bad results. Growing up I was given excessive correction, little if any praise. Not only does this lead one to feel of little value and low self-esteem, praise becomes suspect. At the other end, excessive praise can backfire when facing a world painting a more realistic picture and the individual does not know how to react.
    There needs to be a balance and perspective.

    When coaching others, I was taught to point out what was done well or recognize improvement on a skill in realistic manner, and give at most a couple things at any given time a way to work on weak areas. The idea is to be supportive and yet not overwhelm with how to proceed. This also is for both to see improvements are incremental and skills are often cumulative.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.