Praising Kids & Self-Esteem: The Good & The Bad

In the intricate journey of childhood, the affirmations we offer to our young ones play a pivotal role in shaping their perceptions of themselves and the world around them. It’s a delicate dance, this act of praising, where our words can either cultivate deep-rooted self-assurance or inadvertently sow seeds of self-doubt. How then, in our earnest intentions, do we ensure our words resonate with authenticity and truly nurture their evolving sense of self? Let’s delve deeper.

First of all, this is a great talk by Dr. Eddie Brummelman on how praise can affect self-esteem, how even well-meant praise can backfire and lead to narcissism and other self-esteem issues, and advice on how to do it right.

1. Valuing the Journey Over the Destination

Rather than exclaiming, “What a brilliant mind you have!” after a task well done, consider acknowledging the journey with, “I see the dedication and effort you poured into this.” Such praise, rooted in the process, fosters an understanding that growth and learning come from persistence and exploration.

  • “I noticed how you tried different strategies to solve that math problem. Your persistence is admirable.”
  • “Even though you didn’t win the race, the dedication you showed during practice was evident.”
  • “Your painting reflects the time and thought you invested in every brush stroke.”

2. Genuine, Heartfelt Acknowledgment

Broad strokes like “Well done!” can sometimes miss the essence. Instead, attune to the nuances of their actions. Say, “Your choice to share with your sibling spoke of your kindness.”

  • “The patience you showed when helping your younger brother was truly touching.”
  • “Your essay conveyed your deep reflections and personal insights beautifully.”
  • “The care with which you organized the event showcased your attention to detail.”

3. Celebrating Their Inner Compass

When children take initiative, it’s a reflection of their budding autonomy. Recognize this with words like, “Your ability to take charge of your tasks without external prompts is truly commendable.”

  • “Choosing to apologize after the argument showed your maturity and self-awareness.”
  • “You decided on your project topic without waiting for suggestions, showcasing your independence.”
  • “Taking the initiative to clean up after the party was a testament to your sense of responsibility.”

4. Witnessing Their Emotional Landscape

Affirming a child’s emotional world is pivotal. Expressions like, “Your capacity to voice your feelings shows depth and self-awareness,” can validate their emotional experiences.

  • “I appreciate how you expressed your fears about the first day at school. It’s okay to feel that way.”
  • “Your joy at seeing the butterfly was palpable. Embracing such moments is precious.”
  • “It’s commendable how you articulated your feelings of disappointment without lashing out.”

5. The Perils of Over-Affirmation

An overflow of praise, no matter how well-intentioned, can sometimes lead children to seek external validation. Let’s offer our affirmations mindfully, ensuring they resonate with genuine recognition.

  • “I want to acknowledge the effort you put into your model, not just because it’s impressive, but because I saw the dedication behind it.”
  • “It’s not just about the number of goals you scored, but the teamwork I noticed throughout the game.”
  • “Your report was thorough, but what stood out was your determination to understand the deeper concepts.”

6. Honoring Resilience

In the face of challenges, it’s not the stumble but the rise that truly matters. “Your resilience and spirit to navigate through difficulties is truly inspiring,” can guide them to value their inner strength.

  • “Even after falling off the bike multiple times, your determination to learn was inspiring.”
  • “I saw how you handled the rejection from the school play and then decided to join the backstage crew. That resilience is commendable.”
  • “Despite the setbacks in your project, you approached each challenge with a problem-solving spirit.”

7. Engaging in Heartfelt Conversations

Beyond mere words of praise, engage their minds and hearts. Questions like, “How did you feel during this process?” or “What insights did this journey offer you?” encourage reflection and deeper connection.

  • “What inspired you to choose this topic for your presentation?”
  • “How did you feel when your teammates cheered for your effort?”
  • “What was going through your mind when you decided to stand up for your friend?”

8. The Individuality of Their Journey

Each child’s journey is unique, and comparisons can cloud this truth. Let’s celebrate their individual path without juxtaposing it against another’s.

  • “Your approach to solving that puzzle was unique and thoughtful, quite different from how others tackled it.”
  • “I noticed how you bring a distinct flavor to the music you compose. It’s truly your own.”
  • “Your interpretation of the poem in class was personal and offered a fresh perspective.”

9. Embracing the Spectrum of Their Being

While academic pursuits hold their place, it’s vital to recognize the myriad ways a child blossoms – be it in arts, human connections, or the simple joys of play. Honor the wholeness of their being.

  • “While your grades are commendable, it’s your compassion and empathy that truly stand out.”
  • “Your athletic achievements are noteworthy, but your leadership and mentorship on the field are equally significant.”
  • “I’m not just impressed by your academic presentations but also by the joy you exude while dancing.”

10. Walking Alongside with Humility

As guides on their journey, let’s embody the values we wish to impart. In our praise, may we reflect humility, understanding that we too are ever-evolving learners.

  • “I learned something new from the way you approached that challenge. Thank you for showing me a different perspective.”
  • “Your question made me reflect on my own understanding. Let’s explore the answer together.”
  • “Seeing your dedication reminds me of the importance of continuous learning and growth.”

In Closing

The act of praising our children is profound, a bridge between their inner world and the external environment. By approaching it with intention, presence, and deep respect for their individual journey, we can truly nurture a sense of self-worth that aligns with their authentic selves.

Related read: Self-Esteem Poems For Kids


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