Praise and self-esteem

Thinking & Learning   |   Age: 1 year 4 months

Praise and self-esteem

Any praise you send your baby's way comes from a good place: you love her, you truly think she is doing a good job, and you want to let her 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" your 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 she is doing well, that you care, and that her 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 your baby should be honest. Does this put you in a tricky position if she 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. She might truly be a natural painter, but telling her that she was born with a gift a) takes away from the work she put into it, b) doesn't motive her to continue trying hard, and c) could discourage her down the road if things don't come to her naturally.

None of this means that you can't praise your child or tell her that she has done excellent work. You just may want to be careful about what you say and when you say it. If your baby shows you something impressive, shout it from the rooftops! If she 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 she stands up or says "mama."

One more wrench to throw into this: your carefully worded praise is going to be a little lost on your baby right now. She is still little! Hearing your oohs and ahhs over her toddler accomplishments are neither going to scar her or bless her. They will, however, help you establish a pattern for praise, making it easier for you to transition to the "right" praise as your 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 her self-esteem and set her up for success, but using thoughtful praise to encourage her, compliment her, and help her improve can lead to good self-esteem down the road. If nothing else, it's worth a shot.

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