How much praise is too much? Can overpraising kids actually harm them? Is it possible for kids to have too much self-esteem? These are just some of the questions being raised by new research conducted by, Carol Dweck of Columbia University. Self-esteem has been a hot topic in parenting books, education, self-help, and even relationship advice for quite some time. The idea went something like, if you believe in yourself you can do anything! Reach for the stars! The key tenet, set off by the 1969 Publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden, was that positive self-esteem must be achieved at any cost. Praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. So, anything possibly detrimental to a kids’ self-esteem must go. Competitions? No way, too damaging! Everyone’s a winner and everyone gets a trophy. Teachers were told to throw out their red pens and adopt a lexicon of approval and positivity. Parents were told to value the power of positive praise, the more the better; abundant, permeating, undeserved, and ever-present. But as it turns out, the “science” of self-esteem was not that scientific. It was flawed and in some cases, flat out inaccurate. More recent studies have shown that having self-esteem does not improve grades or promote career advancement. In fact, (gasp) it doesn’t even keep you from becoming a criminal, as it especially does not lower violent or negative behavior like lying and cheating. So, you may be thinking, like I did, now what? If I can’t say, “good job, you’re so smart,” then what am I supposed to do? In fact, it turns out that telling a child they are smart when they succeed may not be wise. Praising a child as “smart” or by using other nondescript positive praise, builds their self-esteem on a tenuous platform. One misstep or failure pulls the rug out from under them, calling into question everything that the child’s self-esteem is based upon.
According to Educational Psychologist, Michelle Borba, kids in our society have become very praise dependent. This over-abundance of praise can be detrimental causing low motivation, poor grades, and low self-esteem. So, how can you tell if your kid has become praise-dependent? Look for the following signs:
1. The child is very self-centered.
2. The child is dependent on praise to determine if they have been successful.
3. The child is used to praise, expects it, and seeks it out if it is not immediately given.
4. The child is over competitive to the point that they need to tear others down.
New research conducted by Carol Dwek of Columbia University found that praising kids for being “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming; in fact it may actually cause it. In my next blog, find out more about this new research and what it reveals about steps that parents can take to develop a strong work ethic in their children.
Nina Parrish, M.Ed.