You may think you’re building up kids’ self-esteem by passing some type of compliments, but the truth is you may be unintentionally setting them up to struggle.
Here are four compliments you should avoid passing on your children, to avoid the praise trap.
“You’re so pretty!”
There is a chance that you will notice a girls appearance, clothes, and hair more than you will notice that of a boy. So, it seems natural to compliment it—but this is evidence of our own gender bias.
The problem lies in the messages that girls receive from almost every front. Girls are growing up in a culture where their value is constantly linked to their appearance, so the collective message that girls internalize is that they must be attractive to have worth.
Research shows that girls feel pressure to look pretty from primary school. Being pretty is also viewed as something that can’t be controlled—so if a girl feels she isn’t pretty, she may feel she isn’t lovable and there’s nothing she can do about it.
Alternatively, she may spend a lot of effort on trying to look pretty, instead of focusing on other, more valuable skills and interests.
“You’re so smart!”
We all know the previous generations were very strict and held back from praising their children, but parents today seem to be overdoing it.
According to child development experts, the point of praise is to encourage positive behaviour but simply being “smart” isn’t a behaviour, and kids don’t perceive it as something they can control.
So praising them for being smart is not helpful because kids and even adults—usually think that being smart is innate and fixed. They think you are born with a certain amount of ‘smartness,’ and if schoolwork comes easily, then you are smart, and if schoolwork is difficult, then you are not smart.
Instead, studies have shown that parental praise for kids’ hard work instead of their inherent abilities better develops their perseverance. Saying things like ‘I am so proud of how hard you worked on your math,’ or ‘I am proud of how hard you studied for spelling’ tells a child that success is due to effort.
“I’m so proud you got an A!”
You will surely be proud if your child gets a good grade but it is much better to praise the improvement than the actual end result. Research shows that people are happier when they have a ‘growth’ mindset rather than a ‘fixed’ mindset.”
Research from Stanford showed that kids with a growth mindset improved more in grades and study skills—because they believed they could get better if they worked at it.
A better way to praise would be to show them how their effort led to their success and this can give them a real sense that they are making strides towards becoming more proficient.
“You’re a good girl/boy!”
Praising a child for being “good” places an inherent value on them, rather than on their actions, so they believe themselves to be either “good” or “bad.”
You may wonder what’s wrong with being good; the fact is every child knows they aren’t always ‘good’ and that they have thoughts and feelings you wouldn’t like.
So if you tell them they’re good, they need to show you otherwise by acting bad—or they become heavily invested in keeping you fooled, and they feel like they have to hide their true selves and be perfect, which is even worse.
Always refer to the child’s actions, rather than evaluating the child herself.