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Praise Descriptively to Increase Your Children's Self Esteem

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/18/2006 | Parenting
As a parent, I'm sure you want to see your children grow up happy, confident and with high self esteem. Many child related professionals will tell you that to accomplish this you need to shower your children with praise. Unfortunately, the natural praises you sing are usually evaluative and don't always uplift your children as desired. The praise itself is well-meant but the reaction from your children sometimes is unexpected. Consider these examples:

Example 1

Child: Mom, how do you like my drawing?
Mom: It's great.
Child: Better than the last one I did?
Mom: They both look wonderful dear.

Child's reaction: I wonder if she really thinks its good?

Example 2

Dad: Wow, top in your class? That's really clever.
Child's reaction: Oh no. If I don't top my class again, Dad might not think I'm so clever anymore.

Example 3

Mom: You are such a good girl for cleaning up this room.
Child's reaction: I'm not so good. I actually left some toys behind the couch.

As you can see, evaluative praises do not always raise your children's self esteem. In fact, it may cause doubt, anxiety and denial.

So how do you praise your children if you don't use evaluative words such as "good", "great", "wonderful", "fantastic", "clever", etc....?

Here is alternative method called Descriptive Praising. Basically you describe what you see and express how you feel. When you do this, you will find your children praising themselves thus, the increase in self esteem. Here are alternatives to the previous examples:

Example 1

Child: Mom, how do you like my painting?
Mom: I see you've used a lot of bright colors. It makes the drawing very vibrant and alive. It feels like a happy picture.
Child's reaction: She likes it. I'm really good at painting.

Example 2

Dad: Top in your class? You've studied hard for this exam. I see you've put a lot of effort to do well.
Child's reaction: Yes, I'm a hard worker.

Example 3

Mom: I see you've made sure all the toys are put back in their respective boxes and the books are back on the shelf. I like it when the floor is clear of things, don't you?
Child's reaction: I really know how to clean up when I want to.

Descriptive praise helps your children know exactly what they did right. They are then motivated to repeat the correct behavior. Plus they know the praise is a genuine one. It takes less than a second to dish out common evaluative words. You could be reading the newspaper, take a glance over your children's work and say "Wonderful." But to give descriptive praise takes a little more effort. However, this extra effort goes a long way in your children's eyes because to them, it spells "time" and "attention".

So the next time you dish out praises, don't opt for the easy way out. Take a little time to describe what you see and how you feel. It's a better prescription to nurturing self esteem in your children.