Can you overpraise your child?

Praising your child is paramount to their developing self-esteem and confidence. Positive reinforcement is an important early childhood tool to show children what they’re doing right or well. It’s easy to get into the transactional habit of correcting behavior more often than encouraging it. It can seem more urgent to acknowledge when your child is misbehaving than when they are behaving. But mindful parenting is about acknowledging everything, and always assessing what you want to discourage and what you want to reinforce.

Saying, “I knew you could do it” or, “You’re amazing,” or “I’m so proud of you,” when they are behaving well, following instructions, or being creative helps them determine what they’re supposed to do. Some other positive reinforcement statements could be:

  • I like how you’re cleaning your toys.

  • You're doing such a good job at dressing yourself.

  • I like how you’re using your listening ears.

  • I’m glad you listened to me. That’s being a good helper. High Five!

But believe it or not, we can overdo these positive reinforcement phrases, especially “good job.”

Your child finishes his food. “Good job!”

Your child brushes his teeth. “Good job!”

Your child climbs in her car seat. “Good job!”

Like, let’s be honest. These are skills that are not a stretch for most children. Did they really do a good job? You mean that? After they master something, you gotta stop the “good job.” It becomes a verbal tic that you say after they do anything at all. It becomes meaningless. It can even dissuade them from continuing. Once a child receives a really vague verbal reward, they’re more likely to lose interest in whatever they were doing and move on to the next thing that will get them praised. That’s why it’s more effective to qualify what they are doing well:

  • I like how you tried to tie your shoelaces independently.

  • You were very helpful with cleaning up the table.

  • I’m so proud that you got dressed by yourself.

By mentioning what they did and how it affects the big picture, they are able to see how the skills they practice influence or benefit their family and community.

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