Praise is Boring

Praise is Boring

***Today I am welcoming a guest post By Sarah MacLaughlin. Her post is adapted from an excerpt of her award-winning best selling book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children PLUS…scroll down for a giveaway opportunity!!***

Much has been written on the misuse and overuse of praise. Alfie Kohn condemns it. Po Bronson has written extensively about the work of researcher Carol Dweck. The bottom line: it’s boring. Kids tune it out. And if they don’t, you have a different problem on your hands: addiction to praise. Ever seen a young child badger an adult for approval? It can be pretty intense: “Do you like my drawing? Do you like my drawing? Do you like my drawing?” It’s like crack!

Here are a few example of how praise, especially some overused phrases, and encouraging children to perform are less-than-desirable.

What a good girl!

When I hear, “Good girl,” or “Good boy,” I half expect to also hear “Sit! Nice dog.” Aside from the fact that these phrases sound like obedience training, they are vague and overused. No child is entirely “good” or “bad,” and either label puts limits on children. Some parents use praise to encourage desired behavior.

Narration is also very effective. For example, “You remembered to stop and hold hands before crossing the street.” Perhaps include a simple statement of gratitude such as “Thank you, I appreciate that.”

Show Grandpa how you can count to ten.

Asking a child to exhibit his latest skill is something many of us do without thinking. When my nephew was about nine months old, he learned to shake his head on command. It’s a wonder the baby didn’t develop whiplash from the number of times various adults prompted him, “Shake your head!” We were thrilled that he could understand our words and make the necessary connections in his little mind. No one considered whether this would inhibit a desire to learn new things for himself.

Over time, if a child is repeatedly asked to perform his “tricks,” he may lose his natural motivation to master new things on his own and only perform for the sake of pleasing an audience. Requesting a show from a child and then showering her with praise does her no favors.

If you acknowledge new learning with narration, it keeps a child grounded in her own capabilities as opposed to being dependent on your approval. “You just counted to ten!” along with a smile, sends a clear enough message. Grandma, siblings, and caregivers will be in the loop about new abilities in due time. No special emphasis needed.

Good job!

It seems like this statement would be nice for a child to hear. But research shows that in the long run, praise, which is actually a form of judgment, can be ineffective and sometimes damaging to children. The child may believe he only does well at certain things and therefore is no good at others. It also sets the stage for him to always try to please others, to become dependent on feedback from adults. This robs him of the opportunity to truly please himself, which is the foundation for gaining self-esteem and self-motivation.

Many parents today are enthusiastic cheerleaders for their children. Mom or Dad claps like a seal and gushes over the child who has just stacked four blocks or gotten his pants buttoned up. A big or contrived reaction can give kids the message that certain behavior is excessively important.

If you do give praise or encouragement, be sure it’s genuine and specific, not general. Really pay attention to a child’s activities. Look when he yells, “Look at me!” Instead of mindless praise, use narration and a positive tone: “I see you, Jonah. You climbed to the top of the tower!” Instead of your evaluation, comment on how the child might be feeling: “You did it yourself—you must feel very proud.”


So go easy on the praise and don’t ask kids to “show-off” their accomplishments. Positive Parenting Connection has a great piece here with some helpful suggestions for what to say instead of empty praise.


Another easy substitution is to simply say what you see. When you do this you can use your tone to convey how you feel about it. “You are helping clean up,” and “You are throwing food on the floor,” will carry a different feel when you say them. One is encouraging (aka a replacement for praise!) and the other gives a child an opportunity to see what they are doing and change course. You can continue with a limit about throwing food and listen to feelings if it continues.

As I’ve shared in another post during this blog tour , tone is more important than your words, and praise over used is boring.

Let me know what you think!


Special Giveaway! 

Please comment on this post about praising our children. Your comment enters you in the eBook Giveaway — to win an ebook copy of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, in the format of your choice: PDF, epub, or Kindle format. Sarah will be giving away one copy at each blog stop and will announce it on the comments of this post tomorrow. Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you in case you’re the winner!


Other stops and opportunities to win during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah’s blog here:


Also, you can enter at Sarah’s site for the Grand Prize Giveaway: a Kindle Touch. Winner will be announced at the end of the tour after July 15th. Go here to enter:

 The Giveaway is now closed. 

About The Author

Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and nanny. Sarah is currently a licensed social worker at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine, and works as the resource coordinator in therapeutic foster care. She serves on the board of Birth Roots, and writes the “Parenting Toolbox” column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family. Sarah teaches classes and workshops locally, and consults with families everywhere. She considers it her life’s work to to promote happy, well-adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say. More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her site: and her blog:

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

17 Responses to Praise is Boring

  1. Gee this is hard I’ve been trying for a while but good job still slips in. I’m definately going to have to get the ebook.

  2. I love reading your blogs and then putting your suggestions to practice. I tend to a lot of of what you suggest already, but see where I also do what you say not to, and with good reason!

    Right after reading this I said to my 4 year old, “you must be so proud of yourself for swimming without floaties yesterday!” Her response….”that deserves a reward!”


    So the reward system has backfired on me.
    I said “your reward is the good feeling that you had my swimming so well by yourself.”

    Luckily she’s now off playing.

    Thank you for so many great tips!

  3. Ahhhhh the praise junkies. I was skeptical when I first read about this a few years ago, but tried it. What a difference. My older girl, now 4.5, was starting to become afraid to try new things, or to do any think before she had mastered it. She was so caught up in the reward of praise she was afraid of failure. Now, I pay very specific attention to her efforts and a focus on the process not the outcome. It’s really helped her relax about not doing everything perfectly the first time.

  4. I struggle with a 5 y.o. daughter that commands attention to demonstrate or tell me about everything she can do and everything she knows and anything that happens to anyone else. We’ve been mindful of not praising too much for a few years, but of course aren’t consistent about it. I feel really bad telling her that I really don’t need to know (or want to know) every time anyone does anything, but can’t seem to get her to understand and be proud of herself without external confirmation. Sometimes I have no choice but to provide an empty acknowledgement and continue what I’m doing or else nothing else would get done.
    Your post provides some great advice and more logic behind this topic, but I think the hardest thing making the transition to this style of parenting when the kids aren’t receptive and used to our “old” methods. It’s hard to avoid falling back into old habits.

  5. As a new(ish) parent, I’m trying to get our family started on a positive foot from the beginning. That said, it’s awfully difficult to be mindful of thoughts like this on praise during the hubbub of work, home, lack of sleep. I’m hoping it gets easier as we continue down this path.

  6. My little one is only 8 months but I am trying to say Thank You instead of Good Job when she does what I ask. It is really hard to change those behaviors that are so ingrained.

  7. That was a perfect response! Think of tangible rewards as training wheels for ONLY when necessary (rarely). Try for more connection, one-on-one time rewards: cuddles, hugs, I love you’s, etc.

  8. Yes, change in this dept. is very slow-going. Aim for some non-verbal communication of love and approval. Young children are VERY receptive of this!

  9. Yes, your focus should be on SELF-CARE. Small bits throughout the day and longer chunks whenever you can manage them! That will free up some mindspace for the nuances of language. With a young one, focus on being responsive and connected. The rest will fall into place!

  10. Ouch.

    I don’t think its just our kids that get used to the “old ways”, “bad habits” and such… and of course, when we are tired, overwhelmed, and suffering from severe lack of self-care, well, its hard to care. Its hard to put in the extra effort to make a positive change or just be positive.

    My kids aren’t “little” little anymore. They are 8 & 6, so some damage has been done, (oh, and some good stuff, too!) but I have to say, when you do this, make little changes, it shows! Its sometimes hard to see them struggle with the change, but so rewarding. Seeing pride on my son’s face because he just accomplished something, is pretty awesome…

    And when we remember that we are all on the same team; when we remember what the end result we are hoping to accomplish is; when we remember why we wanted to have kids and that this was never going to be easy or convenient… well, it makes it a bit easier to try.

    I say this a lot for myself. I make mistakes. I slip back. I forget. But what works for me is pausing. Before I ‘react’ or respond, I pause. If I forget… then making a note of it to myself and sometimes (often-times) to my kids. Apologizing, acknowledging right in front of my kids is also pretty powerful. They see me admit my mistakes. They see me not get it right all the time. They see me acknowledge their efforts, their struggle, dilemma, etc… it helps them see that I am trying, that I care, that this is not a perfect science. I hope they see this. Some days I really know they do.

    I guess, for me personally, some advice would be to make one change at a time. It sticks better for me. I get very overwhelmed with thinking I have to change “everything right now”!! Ahhhh!!! (see).

    I thank Positive Parenting Connection and Sarah MacLaughlin for their experience, wisdom, input, gentleness, intelligence and TIME (away from their families), and for sharing it all with me (I mean, us)!

    I wish it didn’t have to stop. But I guess now we are like babies becoming toddlers: learning to walk on our own!

  11. Heather thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. I love what you said about how hard it is to be caught up in needing to change everything right now…it’s tough! small steps, absolutely every moment of trying to do better, feel more connected counts 🙂

  12. *****And the winner is………….Melissa!******
    (You will receive an email with all the details!)

    Thank you to all that expressed interest in Sarah MacLaughlin’s book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children.

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