Guest Blogs

In Praise of… Praise!

Help your child with attention deficit handle frustration and criticism: meaningful praise and encouragement will help her bounce back when she’s down.

A mom gives her daughter a high five. Praise is one of her ADHD parenting strategies.
A mom gives her daughter a high five. Praise is one of her ADHD parenting strategies.

Our kids know all about criticism. Judgments are leveled at them from the moment they step over the front-door threshold in the morning until their head hits the pillow at night. Teachers, buddies, the Little League coach, Uncle Walter, the next-door neighbor — each launches, often unintentionally, his own special form of “incoming,” as the military generals say, at our kids.

Loving parents spend the rest of the time picking up the pieces of their child’s self-esteem and putting them back together again. Parents’ tool of choice for this repair is praise.

According to child psychologist Kenneth Barish, Ph.D., author of a new book titled Pride & Joy, kids need praise as much as they do food, water, and their iPod.

“In three decades of clinical practice, I have met many discouraged, angry, and unhappy children,” writes Barish. “I have met demoralized kids who were unable to sustain effort when they encountered even mild frustration or disappointment. The culprit is not praise, but criticism. Children need praise. We all do.”

Then Barish throws a sneaky curve ball at parents. He suggests that not all praise is created equal. Empty praise — insincere, unrealistic, crazy, stupid praise that wildly ballyhoos kids’ intelligence and talents — isn’t as effective in restoring our kids’ self-esteem as praise that applauds their effort, perseverance, and use of good strategies.

[Free Resource: 10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child]

The former is a quick fix: kids always love to hear that they are smart, but the feel-good effects are short-lived. The latter sticks with them and, in some ways, becomes a Teflon coating against the negative comments that will most likely continue to come their way.

Studies conducted by psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D., of Stanford University, and her colleagues show that when parents praise their kids for their effort and judgment — not their IQ and their superlative abilities — kids are more likely to show more optimism and determination when faced with disappointment and setbacks. So the next time an unkind word is hurled at them or they blow it trying to befriend someone at school, they won’t melt into a puddle of failure. They’ll try again.

How does this work in the hurly-burly of everyday life? What should you say and how should you say it?

Barish writes: “Journalist Po Bronson describes his effort to take Carol Dweck’s lessons to heart and to put them into practice with his kindergarten son, Luke.

[“10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was a Kid”]

‘I tried to use the specific type of praise that Dweck recommends. I praised Luke, but I attempted to praise his process. Every night Luke has math homework and has to read phonics book aloud. Each takes about five minutes if he concentrates, but he’s easily distracted. So I praised him for concentrating without asking to take a break. After soccer games, I praised him for looking to pass, rather than just saying he played great. And if he worked hard to get the ball, I praised the effort he applied. It was remarkable how noticeably effective this new form of praise was.’

“This is a wonderful example, from a thoughtful and devoted father. Bronson pays more attention to what Luke is doing — his effort as well as his frustrations along the way. And Luke gets more, not less, praise.”

Try this new form of praise with your child, and let us know here if she seems to be walking taller — like Rocky.