Mom over-praises daughter, daughter craves approval
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
THE PROBLEM: I’ve always been one to praise my daughter. I love her for who she is, and I want her to love herself, too. But I’m wondering if I’ve overdone it. She’s three now, and she constantly seeks my attention whenever she does any little thing. She has trouble playing by herself, since what seems to make her happiest is me telling her she’s done a good job! I know I need to get out of this cycle of praise, but I don’t know how to without disappointing her or making her feel bad about herself.
MARY SAYS: You’re lucky to realize while your daughter is still little that you’ve fallen into this ‘cycle of praise.’ After all, praising our children feels good, and sometimes it’s hard to see that praising a child is all about us, because it is.
By praising her, you’re taking away your daughter’s ability to praise herself, or question her own behavior and find it wanting. In essence, you’re teaching her to believe that your opinion matters more than hers, which is why she is now looking to you to find out if she’s done a ‘good job.’
This doesn’t end, by the way.
As your daughter grows, she’ll become dependent upon the approval of others, which can have devastating consequences when she becomes an adult. Her friends, colleagues, and spouse will tire of hearing her slip a ‘Look at me!’ into every conversation or pouting if someone doesn’t tell her she did a ‘good job.’
And that doesn’t begin to describe how poorly she’ll feel about herself, even when she’s able to elicit an “Atta girl!” (Or heaven forbid, disapproval.) In other words, her self-esteem will always be at the mercy of other people’s judgments if you continue to praise every little thing she does.
As a parent, you’ve been charged with helping your daughter assess her own capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. You can help her do that by describing what you see, without judgment:
“You put your sippy cup away.”
“You tied your shoes by yourself.”
“You were quiet in the library without anybody reminding you.”
These are conversation-starters that invite your daughter to reflect on the situation and what she has done well. You can also use these statements to point out what she hasn’t done well, in a factual, non-punitive way, e.g., “You didn’t put your sippy cup away.”
Next, try deferring to her when you see she’s done something particularly special:
“How do you feel about sharing your playhouse with your brother?”
“You must feel pretty good about yourself, making your own sandwich.”
“What do you think about your drawing?”
Start now. Today. Vow to never utter the words “good job” again. You may be surprised how many times you need to bite your tongue at first, but you will be delighted to soon find that your daughter no longer glances at you to find out if, indeed, she’s doing one.
ERIKA SAYS: As a parent, I too, find myself lavishing praise on my son. It’s hard not to. At around the same age, I started to notice in my son the same behaviors your daughter is demonstrating. I’m not concerned about your daughter seeking constant approval from you, and the reason I say that is because at her age, approval is important for her development. Three-year-olds are still toddlers, and your feedback helps her develop social awareness.
In other words, her constant craving for attention and approval from those who matter most to her is normal.
While I don’t think you’ve overdone it (yet), if the constant praise continues, it could be detrimental to her development. What you don’t want is your child to become dependent upon someone continually affirming her in order to feel good about herself.
When I found myself in this situation with my son, a wise individual shared some helpful tips, the first being to shift the focus off myself and back onto my son. For example, if my son comes to me and shows me something he made, I’ll say something like “Whoa, AJ! You must be so proud of yourself.” By doing this, I’m teaching my son to take pride in his own work. I don’t necessarily follow up with a compliment (although I might), and I make an effort shift the focus to his own feelings about what he’s done.
The second tip is to focus less on labels, because emphasizing labels like “smart” can make your child feel pressured into living up to those expectations. Although I find this to be helpful (and it makes total sense), I still tell my son he’s smart, handsome, intelligent, etc. during our morning affirmations. I have modified this tip by confining labels such as ‘smart’ to our morning affirmations.
The key here is balance. For me, I know my son’s love language is quality time and positive affirmations. These are the ways he receives love, and it fills his cup, which is why I took the tips given to me and modified them. As the parent, you will know what balance looks like as your daughter grows older and comes into her own.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.