What was the most memorable thing that you received praise for when you were a child?
Who was it from? Was it from your parents? From a teacher? And why do you remember it so well?
Praise can have an incredible, and sometimes confusing, impact on children. It can raise them up when they most need it, but it can also have a different effect if done in certain ways. All children deserve praise to boost their self-esteem and to help validate achievements as they make their way in life. But there are some kinds of praise that can actually have the opposite effect that what we intend. This is what we call ‘toxic praise’. It is the kind of praise that is only given when races are won, grades are earned or competitive milestones reached. When we only praise our children for winning, or hitting those heights, we run the risk of sending a tough message: “I love you, but I love you more when you win”. This is toxic praise.
So what kind of praise is non-toxic? What is healthy praise that reinforces wellbeing, rather than toxic praise which threaten self-esteem? Positive praise is when we celebrate our children for good things that they can choose to do, rather than just what they compete for. Have you ever praised your child for prioritising a fun time with friends after a day of hard study or for making time to exercise during a particularly busy week? For deciding to come home from a friend’s home earlier than normal to get a good night’s sleep? For committing to share time with a grandparent on Zoom each week? To commit to take an evening off from study each week to pursue a non-academic interest?
This is positive praise – and all children are both able to achieve it and deserve it. Positive praise is what every child needs to feel validated, cherished and valued. These are key to the development of wellbeing in any child.
I challenge you to intentionally praise your child over the coming weeks. Show them that you value their wellbeing as much as their grades!