Praise: Three Steps for Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem


Imagine your child’s self-esteem as a house. It doesn’t appear simply because you want it to, but rather is constructed over time. Its strength depends on the foundation that you build day in and day out, through simple acts of love and care. Consider that every time you offer sincere praise to your child, you are adding a brick to your child’s foundation and fortifying him with the sense of self-worth that he needs to eventually stand on his own.

Three Guidelines for Effective Praise

To build the best possible foundation for your child, practice these three simple guidelines for effective praise:

1.     Use Your Words

The first thing to remember about effective praise is that it needs to be spoken aloud. Never assume that your son is aware of how great it is that he helps his sibling or that your daughter knows she did a good thing by sharing her toy.  Tell your children in words how you feel about what you see.  Add in a gentle hug and kiss to reinforce your praise.   It is a human need to receive positive feedback.  What’s more, giving praise for your child’s desirable behaviors is also one of the best ways to ensure that the behaviors are repeated—bonus!

2.    Mean What You Say

The best praise is that which is honest and sincere.  False or empty compliments do not give a child valuable information about what makes them special, unique, talented, or strong; it gives them nothing to build on. Base praise on an action, trait, skill, or ability that the child can understand and can intentionally repeat. Praise builds relationships. When you offer a child a sincere compliment about something that is genuinely meaningful, you discover things that you enjoy in common with him, thereby adding to the foundation of your bond.

3.     Say What You Mean

Be specific when giving praise to a child.  Compare these statements:

a)    Nice job.

b)    I really like the way you helped me with your baby sister, by putting on her crib shoes.  You were very helpful and kind.

Which compliment gives your child clear information about the behavior you would like to see repeated?  Which one is more likely to build their self-esteem as an important member of your family?

Spoken, sincere, specific praise builds the foundation of your child’s self-esteem.  It also strengthens the bonds between family members and encourages the repetition of positive behaviors.  Now that’s a house you can all live in together!

Signe Whitson is a freelance writer and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces. She is also a licensed social worker and mother to two young daughters. Please visit her blog about passive aggressive behaviorMy Baby Clothes Boutique provides her articles to help give back to the parenting community.

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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