I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. And we’re hurting kids when we do.
According to the journal Psychological Science, heaping praise on a child with low self-esteem only does more damage. Doing the same to a kid who’s already confident makes them thrive.
Isn’t it funny? We see a child who is clearly not confident and the first thing we want to do is tell them that wow, they really are doing great on those monkey bars. And boy, I wish I could paint as well as you do.
But the fact is, according to the soon-to-be published study, that kind of praise will just cause kids with low-self esteem to shrink from new challenges.
“Inflated praise can backfire with those kids who seem to need it the most — kids with low self-esteem,” said Eddie Brummelman, lead author of the study and a visiting scholar at The Ohio State University, according to the association.
So what is inflated praise? In this study, it consists of one word that ups the ante a bit. Instead of “You did a good job,” you say “You did an incredibly good job.”
In one study, it was found adults gave inflated praise to children with low self-esteem twice as often as they did to more confident children.
“Parents seemed to think that the children with low self-esteem needed to get extra praise to make them feel better,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study, according to Psychological Science.“It’s understandable why adults would do that, but we found in another experiment that this inflated praise can backfire in these children.”
In the other experiment, 240 children drew a famous van Gogh painting, then were given inflated, non-inflated or no praise from a “professional painter.”
The children were then told they were going to draw other pictures, but could choose which ones to draw. They could do easier ones, but they wouldn’t learn much. Or they could do the harder ones where “you might make many mistakes, but you’ll learn a lot too.”
Children with lower self-esteem were shown to draw the easier pictures if they received inflated praise. Children with high self-esteem were more likely to choose the more difficult ones.
So what’s the takeaway?
Inflated praise may put too much pressure on those with low self-esteem. It may make a child feel that they always have to do well, and they’ll disappoint people if they don’t, and so they may refrain from taking on bigger challenges.
And so the next time you’re ready to tell Susie that her problem solving skills in first grade math are super-spectacular, think about it. Maybe it’s time to tone it down — for her sake.