Praising Kids: One Simple Fool Proof Way To Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Last year I hurt my back, so I have been swimming twice a week at our local indoor pool. The time that I usually go coincides with swimming lessons for kids. It is there that I hear the overuse of the phrase, “Good Job!” Both the instructors and the parents there use it with great abandon.
I know that “Good Job” comes naturally out of our mouths when we talk to kids. I might talk a big game, but I am guilty of it as well. It is quick, it’s easy and it sounds very positive. We think it will encourage children, show recognition for their achievements and improve their self-esteem. This is all very admirable. However, research has shown that it does none of these things.
The problem with phrases like “Good Job”, “Nice Work” or “You Are Amazing” is that they are empty and mechanical. They do not have any lasting meaning for kids.
To praise in a way that truly encourages our kids and helps build their self-esteem, we need to highlight a specific action and the attribute that our child used to achieve that action.
“You are the best swimmer ever!”
“You kept your face in the water the whole time! You blew bubbles and breathed the way the teacher told you! You were able to follow through on what you learned.”
“Yesterday you got into the water and you held onto the wall. Today, you were able to play in the water without holding onto the wall. That is called being brave!
“You should be proud of yourself. Turn around and look how far you swam. You swam from here to here! That is called perseverance!”
Praising in this way takes longer but it helps children develop a strong self-image. When we use this type of praise, we give them pictures of their abilities and their strengths. When we say, “Good Job”, they may think, “Did I really do a good job? Does she really mean it?” When we describe their actions, they know specifically what they have done and achieved.
Kids are then generally able to internalize the message, “I can work hard and listen, and that is how I learned to swim. I started off scared, I was only able to touch the wall but then I was able to get more comfortable and move away from the wall.” They will hopefully then use those messages to foster confidence within themselves even when they are alone.
Praising kids appropriately is important for their emotional development. It can be challenging but with a little practice we can help kids take real pride in their accomplishments and truly build their self-esteem.