Praise and self-esteem

Any praise you send Baby‘s way comes from a good place: you love him, you truly think he is doing a good job, and you want to let him know it. However, praise’s impact on self-esteem isn’t always so clear-cut.

If you’re praised for everything you do, you might feel unmotivated to do much more or feel nervous about trying something new out of fear that you might not be great at it. You might be insecure about things you’re not amazing at, and you might start taking value and worth from praise instead of your accomplishments.

These are obviously grown-up problems that won’t immediately appear the first time you throw a vague “good job” Baby‘s way, but they’re good examples of what overpraising can do to a person’s self-esteem eventually. But wait, don’t lock your lips and throw away the key! Praise is still important and helps your little one understand that he is doing well, that you care, and that his efforts are appreciated. So, how to walk this tightrope?

You’ve probably heard it before, but here it is again: children benefit from specific praise, not catch-all compliments like “Good job!” or “You’re amazing!” In addition to being specific, the praise you give Baby should be honest. Does this put you in a tricky position if he presents you with a less-than-impressive drawing or finger-painting creation? Actually, no! You’ll be in perfect “I love how much time and effort you put into that!” territory. You might also be next door to “That’s even bigger than your last one!” or “I see you’re trying a new technique – so adventurous!”  

Highlighting the effort your child puts into something is going to be key. He might truly be a natural painter, but telling him that he was born with a gift a) takes away from the work he put into it, b) doesn’t motive him to continue trying hard, and c) could discourage him down the road if things don’t come to him naturally.

None of this means that you can’t praise your child or tell him that he has done excellent work. You just may want to be careful about what you say and when you say it. If Baby shows you something impressive, shout it from the rooftops! If he accomplishes something for the first time, feel free to make a big deal about it. Just be careful that you aren’t breaking out the party hats every time he stands up or says “mama.”

One more wrench to throw into this: your carefully worded praise is going to be a little lost on Baby right now. He is still little! Hearing your oohs and ahhs over his toddler accomplishments are neither going to scar him or bless him. They will, however, help you establish a pattern for praise, making it easier for you to transition to the “right” praise as Baby gets older. You’ll be ready to start conversations about projects rather than just handing out praise, to point out specific things that make an accomplishment cool, and to know your child knows you mean it when you say something is amazing.

Think of it like this: giving your child blanket praise won’t automatically boost his self-esteem and set him up for success, but using thoughtful praise to encourage him, compliment him, and help him improve can lead to good self-esteem down the road. If nothing else, it’s worth a shot.

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