Is Your Child Over-Praised?

I was pretty much in awe with how fast babies grow and develop during the first year of life. I cheered like a stage mom for all her developments – first roll over, first crawl, first solid foods, first words, first steps, and all the other cute things babies do. We kept on praising as she discovered and gained new skills. It was fun and amazing to watch.

When she was nearing her 2nd birthday, however, I noticed that we were probably overdoing it already. I would hear myself say Very Good to her several times a day even on “not so” very good things. And this was on top of family members and friends’ share of Very Goods to her. It became a habit – like it was a default setting to utter those words. She probably heard it every time she took a spoon or drank from her cup, which by the way are just normal things we do on a daily basis.

Don’t get me wrong; I love it when people appreciate. It builds their self-confidence and self-esteem after all. I’m just worried that too much of praising may also be harmful. I’m a bit scared that if she fails on one thing, she’ll get too depressed to lose the “Very Good” title that she often gets.

So one day, I tried to regulate it; I just smiled and showed an approving face when she did something nice. To my surprise, she actually said it herself. She said, “Very good!” and then she commanded, “Mommy say very good too. Clap Mommy.”

Oh my. We actually over praised this kid (Huhu). I could only hope that it is not too late to correct this yet.

I quickly searched the Internet and I found this post, 5 Things to Stop Saying to Your Kid and What to Say Instead (Part 1 & 2) by Shelly Philips, plus a few more articles that share the same point of view. Would you believe I actually summarized it, printed it out, and posted it on our fridge for everyone to see? (If you want a copy, it’s at the end of this post.)

And I asked family members to be one with me in appreciating the “effort” and not just the result. I told them to reserve the Very Goods for the totally spectacular ones. Or we can just let it come from other people – that’s totally fine. But for us at home, we need to limit it.

Hah! It wasn’t easy. We had to practice too for it was hard to get it out of our system. I sometimes slip and say Very Good on ordinary things up to now. Come to think of it, it’s shorter and easier to say compared to “I like how you kept on trying”.

But since we don’t want our kids to grow up too proud nor conceited, I really think rephrasing our compliments is worth the effort. We want them to understand that they don’t need to be good in everything and it’s totally okay to try new things and not succeed in all of them.

So recite with me: Thank you for trying honey. I like it that you didn’t quit at once. I’m glad that you kept on trying until you finally got it.

But I do have an exception! When it involves good values, like respect, obedience, and honesty, we give out all our praises. When it involves social skills like sharing, taking turns, helping a playmate, and showing empathy, you can expect an exaggerated VERY GOOOOOOD from us! This is the time to make up for it! I even bring it up several times to remind her how I liked the good deed she did on previous days. I consciously make an effort to say, “I like how you shared your bread sticks with that poor boy.” or “I saw you take turns with Iyah while playing, you made me so proud.” Yes, it’s a longer script. But everytime I say it that way, it makes my daughter stop and stare at me for a few seconds before she smiles. I would like to think that means something. And I really hope these rewording efforts will give her a better idea of what it is to be “good”.

As promised, here’s the print out plus a few other helpful lines you can use at home.

What to say instead

If you have other lines of appreciation that we can borrow, please share in the comments below. 🙂