How to Keep from Overpraising Your Children
June 4, 2012
How to Keep from Overpraising Your Children
By Harry H. Harrison Jr.

Right now, many parents are seemingly in a race to see who can award more gold stars to their children every week. Well, here's a fact every gold star giver needs to think about: the winners are often the losers. Here's why:

1. Constant praise teaches children that it's other people's duty to give your children self-esteem.  They grow up believing if you feel bad about yourself, it couldn't be because you failed a test, or got caught cheating, or because you spread malicious gossip about another student. No, you feel bad about yourself because someone failed to tell you how special you are today.

2. Overpraise only makes parents feel better.  We praise our kids nonstop, and publicly shouting their names at school plays or soccer tournaments does not really make our kids feel better, but rather helps us deal with their supposed failures. Our children know being a tree in the school play isn't the same as being the star. They know they sit on the bench because another play is better. But we as parents feel better because we're good praisers.

3. Kids see through the crap that is false praise. They don't need adults praising them for getting to breakfast on time or going through a whole day without cheating. It doesn't make them happier or more prepared for the adult world. It just confirms their suspicions that adults are clueless. And it conditions them to a world where praise must continually be fed to them, even when what's most needed is a kick in the butt. 

4. Overpraising teaches kids why bother. Why bother seeking praise from a parent who ladles it out like candy? It will sound just like the praise received for wiping your nose on a Kleenex, not your shirt sleeve. So the honest praise for a job well done will sound hollow.

That's the problem. But with a few attitude adjustments on our part, we can turn a child who expects praise for showing up for breakfast into a young adult in training for the real world:

1. Expect excellence and only occasionally reward it. All kids are hardwired to strive to meet their parents' expectations. This is true with even rebellious teens. If parents expect their children to always do their best, to study, to overcome obstacles, to stand for what's right, to give thanks at night, to be honorable and courageous, curiously enough those are the kind of young adults that emerge. By expecting excellence and occasionally rewarding it is how our kids learn that it's their actions that make them feel good about themselves, not the praise of mom for being "so good."

2. Learn the power of encouragement.  Encouragement is much more effective for raising an adult than effusive praise. Encouragement lifts a discouraged child up. It doesn't gloss over the setback. Kids need to be encouraged to study harder, to practice longer, and to not be afraid of trying something new. They need to be encouraged to stay with a difficult task, to sacrifice, to achieve, and to persevere in the face of defeat. This kind of parenting doesn't praise non-achievement or bad behavior, but encourages the behavior that all successful adults demonstrate.

3. Let your child learn the awesome impact of achievement, self-esteem and self-respect. The fact of the matter is self-esteem is something earned, and it's earned by achieving. Self-esteem is what a person feels overcoming a difficulty, scoring well on a test, finishing an "impossible" task, and defeating competitors.  It's not earned when a doting mother says, "I'm so proud of you," to a 13-year-old who handed in a sloppy paper because it wasn't started until 10 p.m. the night before. Developing self-esteem leads to a healthy respect for oneself. And self-respect is what allows a teen or young adult to say to him or herself, "I can handle this."

4. Remember praise is a parenting tool, not a substitute for parenting.
Many overpraisers find it easier to praise their child at bedtime or scream their name during a soccer tournament than they do putting in the countless, mind-numbing hours of parenting. The fact is, loud and wild public praise doesn't replace spending evenings reading with your child when you'd rather be watching TV or cleaning the house. Making time to be a parent is what shapes our kids to be adults. Hand out praise to commend outstanding effort, not to cover up the fact you've dropped the parenting ball. 

Excerpted from Fearless Parenting, Raising a Child to Face the Adult World by Harry H. Harrison Jr. Harry is a New York Times best-selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over 35 countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia, and in the Far East. For more information visit  Permission granted for use on

Posted by Staff at 7:22 AM