Jul 8 / Laura Schneider, LMHC

Parenting | Parental Praise


What is a compliment? It is “An expression of praise, admiration, or congratulations.”¹ Compliments are sincere expressions; compare this to flattery, which is “excessive or insincere praise.” The University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Research and Language Acquisition² identifies three categories of compliments: appearance, performance, and personality traits. They found that compliments given in the performance and personality trait category are more meaningful and impactful than those in the appearance and possession category.

What is the power of a compliment? Whether we compliment our child, another adult, or ourselves, compliments have powerful reinforcing elements, they increase positive connectedness, and they inspire motivation. A “Strengthening Families” program run by researchers at Penn State University³ includes an activity they call “compliment circles,” where participants sit in a circle and offer compliments. The researchers found that “genuine compliments build relationships, improve communication, motivate adults and children, and provide a boost of good self-esteem and self-confidence.”

But what about the articles and research claiming that too much praise is a bad thing? Well, we have to understand that compliments and praise are connecting actions between people, not building blocks of self-esteem. Self-esteem is built on the back of actions, experiences, self-reliance, and achievements. Compliments and praise might boost self-esteem but, if we look back at our circles, they are really acknowledgments of those skills and accomplishments, unique personality traits, and less importantly, to the effort, natural beauty, or privileged nature in possessions or appearance. So yes, praise intended to create or inflate self-esteem is misguided. Compliments have their place, however, providing opportunities to learn and grow, and they do create a healthy self-esteem.

Too much parental praise isn’t the problem. Constant, inflated, generalized praise, however, can be a problem. It is important to understand your motivation for giving a compliment. When parents give inflated praise they encourage a false sense of accomplishment. This can lead children to distrust of your opinions in the future and even decrease motivation. More so, it can lead to a sense of “sticker shock” when your child is evaluated in the “real world.” So, if you follow the guidelines of praise, then you can relax and give the healthy feedback that build connections, motivate, and reinforce health traits.

The most important praise is self-praise, which arises from honest self-analysis. Parents who rush in too quickly with praise fail to encourage the more important question, “How do you feel like you did on the test?” or “What do you like about your drawing?” or “How did it sound to you?” An honest self-compliment is worth ten outside compliments because the internal dialogue is always with you.

Most of us receive some sort of compliment daily—both verbally and non-verbally. We have been taught, however, to be modest, and so often we overlook, deny, or even reject compliments. We offer extenuating circumstances why something turned out great or point out negative details about the trait or event that contradict the positives. No one wants to appear conceited, and yet, accepting compliments is NOT conceited! Accepting compliments is like adding salt to food. It releases the flavor and increases the taste of life.


Compliment Guidelines:


• Be specific and descriptive: “Sandi, I really like the way you shared with your friend, especially the way you allowed her to use your special blanket when she was cold. That was really generous of you.”

• Compliment what a person has some control over: “Mary, the way you put that pink and green together really made your outfit pop!” “Your computer is really cool, and what’s super cool is that you saved money up for a year to buy it! ”

• Use the person’s name—it helps the brain personalize the positive praise.

• Compliment the unusual and the difficult: “David, you did a great job finishing your math worksheet calmly,” or “Wow, Sam, I never thought of folding the napkins that way. You are really creative.”

• Focus on personal mastery rather than comparative praise: “Billy, you achieved your best time ever! Congratulations on your personal best!” rather than, “Awesome job! You beat Brian—the fastest runner on the team!”

• Encourage self-compliments: “What do you think of your artwork?” or “How do you feel about your score on the test?” or “How close was your time to your personal best?”

 • Be sincere and personalize: “Julie, I love the way you laugh. It makes me laugh!” or “You are such a great person to talk to when I’m down. You are very compassionate.”

• Point out everyday nonverbal compliments: “Did you notice how many kids wanted to play with you at the park?” or “That was really nice of that woman to offer to help you,” or “Julie must really like playing with you. She seems very excited to come over to play tomorrow,” or “Did you notice how many high-fives you got after the game? There were a lot of people who liked the way you played,” or “A lot of people stopped and looked at your art.”

• Accept compliments in return: “Thank you,” or “You made my day!” or “I’m glad you liked it.”

Trouble-shooting:
• Praising the misbehaving child: Giving your child compliments is relatively easy; however, giving them compliments in light of challenging behavior is more difficult. As we’ve pointed out, patience is key to parenting—especially when parenting complicated children. When we can focus on the good intention and extend a belief that they can do better next time, our children are motivated to try harder. No matter the behavior, try finding a compliment when correcting your child’s challenging behavior. Saying things like, “That didn’t work out well. We will need to fix the lamp. I really liked that you came and got me when it happened,” or “Well we know your energy gets too high sometimes and we need to continue working on that. I really like how you came up with the solution to have a quiet space where you can go when your energy gets too big. Let’s keep working on that.” Pointing out the positive in light of the negative helps make a difference and give our children the belief that they are worthy even at difficult moments.

• Praising the ordinary: Compliments boosts feelings of accomplishments. Praise is good, but make sure you praise what needs praising. Praising something already mastered can seem insulting, like telling a teenager they’re really good at tying their shoes.

• Praising things that cannot be changed: Complimenting appearance is a trap. “Oh you look so pretty!” or “Wow, aren’t you handsome.” It can turn into a concern about the absence of praise: If I don’t get praise for something about my appearance it must be bad. If you compliment appearance, remember to compliment the unique expression of self, such as, “You really have a great style,” or “You do your makeup like an artist!
Take Care,
Laura Schneider, LMHC




Works Cited
¹“Compliment.” The Free Dictionary, Farlex, https://www.thefreedictionary.com/compliment.
 ²“American English Compliments.” The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA): Pragmatics and Speech Acts, https://carla.umn.edu/speechacts/compliments/american.html.
³Tomascik, Melissa. “Between Families: The Power of Compliments.” Penn State Extension, 11 June 2022, https://extension.psu.edu/between-families-the-power-of-compliments.