Praising children, an interesting suggestion

November 5, 2013

I read this post on A Cup Of Jo recently and it has really stuck with me over the past couple weeks. Joanna suggests that instead of telling your child he’s a great piano player (for example), we should say ‘I love to watch you play piano’. She argues that the latter is a way of boosting your child’s confidence and encouraging him to continue his activity without putting too much pressure on him to be good at it, or without your child feeling critiqued. She points out how sometimes our well-meaning praise can actually shut someone down, make them more aware of their abilities.

I’ve tried this simple suggestion on my kids recently, and it’s really amazing what kind of response you get — how happy they are to play/sing/draw/dance/read, and how it becomes less about seeking approval and more about enjoying themselves. Because, after all, isn’t it more important that they enjoy doing something than that they’re good at it? I really believe so.

xx Courtney


Comments (13)

Esther in Amsterdam
November 5, 2013

Yes, that is so true. I love to watch my kids play, dance, draw, etc. Will have to tell them more often!! xxx

November 5, 2013

I totally agree, Courtney!
I have just imagined how I would feel in these situations.
If someone would tell me I’m a great piano player (just an example, I cannot play at all), I would be confused, because I know I’m not a great player.
If someone would tell me I play great, I would feel he is giving me a grade. And what if one day I’ll play worse? I’ll get worse grade…
But if someone would tell me he loves to watch me play, it would be pure joy to play!
Thanks for this post, I really think it’s something we should remember and use everyday as parents.

November 5, 2013

Totally read the same article and have been implementing it myself. What a difference a few small words can make!

November 5, 2013

Totally agree. Read something similar about kids and exams. If you say ‘wow you’ve done well, you are clever’ it can scare them and put pressure on them so they may not perform as well next time. However if you say ‘well done, you must have worked really hard’ it is far more encouraging. Yes what a difference a slight change of words can make?!

November 5, 2013

So important and true I think. Here is another eat website that describes it perfectly…

I really encourage you to read this and her other article on what to say instead of praising.

Love your parenting posts Courtney

Laura, London

Courtney in London
November 5, 2013

Hi Laura,
Thanks for the lovely feedback, and thanks for sharing the link to this article. I totally agree with everything she says! So true!

November 5, 2013

I loved that Joanna’s post. Don’t have kids but I could see the amazing response you get when doing this. This is a good way to raise children.

November 5, 2013

This type of praise is called “descriptive praise”. Since you are describing what your child is doing eg. “It is very kind of you to share your cookie”, “you have been very helpful today when we did xyz” etc., the praise becomes an objective description and somehow more “believable” than the usual “well done”. By including what exactly the child did well, you help the child to identify and repeat positive behaviour. It works really well with my kids!

Courtney in London
November 5, 2013

That’s so interesting! I’m going to pay attention to this from now on! (I’m so often guilty of just quickly saying ‘well done’ , maybe because I’m partially distracted or maybe because it’s just easy to offer that response. But I agree that the descriptive praise is much more beneficial.) Thank you. xx

November 6, 2013

Brilliant, I so need to work on this!
Don’t you think it works really well with adults too, though? If someone pays us a “You’re so clever” type compliment, we feel awkward, but if it’s a “I love talking with you about books/cinema/politics/whatever, you always have something interesting to say” compliment we instantly feel both flattered but also like carrying on that conversation. It makes sense that children will feel the same way, especially in relation to their behaviour.
Thanks for the insight Courtney. xx

November 7, 2013

Such a coincidence Courtney – I recently read about the causes of perfectionism (as in the kind that gets in the way of people’s enjoyment of life because they can never meet their own, self-imposed relentless standards), and one of the causes is thought to be a learned reaction to praise in early childhood, where some children who are praised when they “do well”, take on board that you’re only worthy if you do well. I was breaking my head over this, as surely praise is a good thing – so how to get around this? This seems to be part of the answer – how very interesting, and very simple actually!

November 10, 2013

Hi Courtney

There’s a fantastic book by Alfie Kohn called Unconditional Parenting. It makes for a very interesting read and really gets you thinking about how we do praise, bribe, reward our kids!! I think you might like it! X

Meaghan Roozen
November 13, 2013

Yay! I also really loved that article from Cup of Jo. It stuck with me as well 🙂

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