Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

By Michael Hawton, MAPS.

I have been asked to comment on whether we are praising our children too much, and I believe that we are. When parents heap praise on their child, by responding every time he or she does something mundane, they can easily get drawn into a pattern. Often times children are unnecessarily praised for undertaking simple tasks like making a drawing or successfully standing on one foot.

Once children learn that receiving praise is something that they can conjure up by seeking it, they will keep seeking it. That’s pretty hard to resist. I saw this with my very own eyes last week, when I resisted giving praise to a little girl in a restaurant (where my wife and I had struck up a conversation with her parents). The girl showed me a picture she had been colouring in – and she came fishing for a compliment. I found it hard not to bite the bait! Her father even said to me, “I think she’s looking for a compliment…”. Of course she was.

Okay, so here are the three big problems with praising children too much:.

  1. They may grow up with an inflated ‘sense of entitlement’, which, when reinforced with praise over and over, can result in adult narcissism. I’m not kidding; have a look at Jean Twenge’s research below.
  2. They won’t try hard at school; kids who get praised too much at school, just don’t perform as well. See what Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University says below about the lesser effort put in by kids who get told they’re special.
  3. Incorrectly praising a child will affect his or her ability to feel competent in what they do, which is what self- esteem is really about; it’s about doing well in the world.

Here are some references if you want to read some more.



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