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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: