February 8, 2019
Written by: Sara Au
Edited by: Dr. Jocelyn Yu Pan, Ph.D.
Deciding whether to use praise with your children can be a tricky task for parents, especially with various information from the media that generalizes on how praise can turn a child into becoming more “narcissistic” or create a self-absorbed personality in the young one (Rhodes, 2015). It is important to note that many findings on research focused on parental praising has become overgeneralized in popular media and is not an accurate reflection on the research findings themselves. For example, a study done by researchers from the University of Chicago on the effects of praise reported that specific types of praise, like praising a child’s effort during task work (also called “process praising”) can have beneficial impacts on the individual’s functioning (Rhodes, 2015). However, the media that had reported this research stated that parents who compliment their children’s “cleverness” may be potentially harmful for them, when in fact there was no negative relationship found from this study that mentioned this (Rhode, 2015). Regarding harmful praising, the kind that overvalues a child’s “specialness” over others will not have a positive impact on him or her down the line (Rhodes, 2015). Therefore, the specific kinds of praising will be further discussed below that can be used as a guide for parents to practice with their children.
Specific Type of Praise and Narcissism
The research study from the University of Chicago has shown that specific ways of praising children can have either positive or harmful impacts in the long run towards their development and approach to life challenges (Rhodes, 2015). Specifically, praises that overemphasize a child’s value can negatively affect his or her development and even predict narcissistic tendencies later in the child’s life (Rhode, 2015). However, the frequency of praise and the development of narcissism had no correlation, rather the specific kind of praise used is associated with this (Rhode, 2015). Also, a child’s narcissism did not predict either parent’s use of overvaluing praise according to this study (Rhode, 2015). In conclusion, the type of praise that could lead to narcissism include any kind that is made leaving the child feeling he or she is “superior” or more special than his peers (Rhode, 2015).
Benefits of Praise and Motivation
According to a study conducted on parental praise in children aged one to three years old, research showed a positive relationship between the child’s motivational mindset five years later in the areas of ability, success, and life challenges and the parents’ use of praising the child’s effort at home (Gunderson, Gripshover, Romero, Dweck, Goldin-Meadow, & Levine, 2013). For instance, praising the child for his effort in a task empowers him to believe that one’s abilities can be nurtured, hard work can lead to success, challenges can be enjoyable rather than aversive, and one can utilize problem solving strategies for overall improvement (Gunderson et al., 2013). On the other hand, praising a child’s innate abilities may lead them to develop a fixed-ability mindset, though this has not been fully proven by the study (Gunderson et al., 2013). Below are some examples of effort-focused and effective praise that can be practiced with children at home.
List of Effective Praise
Praise should be given in a specific way that acknowledges effort and the child’s enjoyment of an activity or task that he is completing (Kids Matter, 2018). This way, the child will be able to develop a level of interest and motivation in learning and participating in tasks (Kids Matter, 2018). Here is a list of examples for specific, acknowledging, and effective praise:
Should We Use Praise with Children?
The idea of praising children may still be up in the air for some, specifically in how to use praise and if it even is effective in the long run. However, it is important to keep in mind that praise should be meaningful to the child in some way to manifest any long-term benefits. The quality of this should be specific, acknowledging of the individual, and effective in defining the process of a task being completed (Kids Matter, 2018). Knowing how to use praise is also crucial in influencing the child’s perception of success and facing challenges in life. For instance, if a child is praised at home for his effort in completing an activity, then he will be enabled to develop a more growth-oriented motivational mindset in the future (Gunderson et al., 2013). Praising a child’s abilities that he already possesses may not be as effective, and in fact implies to the child in potentially using a fixed-oriented mindset when dealing with difficult tasks (Gunderson et al., 2013). In the end, for praise to be beneficial in the child’s functioning later on, parents are advised to use praise that is unique to the child, focuses on one’s effort in the process of a task, encourages a growth-oriented mindset, and avoid using generic statements that downplay or compare the child’s abilities with others or otherwise promote a fixed mindset (Kids Matter, 2018).
Gunderson, E. A., Gripshover, S. J., Romero, J., Dweck, C. S., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Levine,
S.C. (2013). Parent Praise to 1- to 3-Year-Olds Predicts Children’s Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later. Child Development. DOI:10.1111/cdev.12064. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cdev.12064
Kids Matter. (2018). Encouraging and praising children. Kids Matter. Retrieved from
Rhodes, S. (2015). Is praising children bad for them? To praise or not to praise. Research the
Headlines. Retrieved from https://researchtheheadlines.org/2015/04/14/is-praising-children-bad-for-them-to-praise-or-not-to-praise/
The Epoch Times. (2016). Family literacy: lifelong learning across generations. The Epoch
Times. Retrieved from https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2016/01/19/Father-Kids-Reading-Fotolia_41470841_Nagy-BagolyIlona.jpg