Parents are usually very proud of their children’s good behaviours, their progress and achievements at school or in sports, and they tell their offsprings as often as they can. If receiving compliments and encouragements from adults is essential in developing a healthy self-esteem during the childhood years, certain data nevertheless suggest that overly praising children could actually cause more harm than good.
The question of whether or not we excessively praise our children was addressed in the latest issue of an American trade magazine for teachers and educators. For the last decades, the popular postulate has been that self-esteem is to be central in children’s education. This theory maintains that if children believe in themselves, success will naturally ensue. However, studies have demonstrated that high self-confidence does not necessarily produce more capable students. Reports have actually demonstrated that students who come from countries where education highly focuses on self-esteem, such as North America for example, actually trail behind other countries.
The article quotes a recent study in which eighth graders from Korea and the United States were asked if they were good at math. Among the young Americans, 39% answered they excelled in mathematics, compared with only 6% of young Koreans affirming the same. The reality however, was entirely different. The Korean children got much better scores in math than their American peers did.
According to this magazine, abundant praises can result in individuals forgetting the pride and satisfaction that come with genuine progress and achievement. Consequently, children focus more on the reward and less on the learning process, or on their improvements. This is why failures and setbacks can be utterly devastating and disconcerting for students whose confidence is based on an inflated ego, rather than on their actual skills and abilities.
This certainly does not mean we should stop encouraging and praising our children! Rather, teachers, educators and parents should make a habit of being more specific with their words and praises. For example, instead of saying “You are intelligent!” to your eldest, you could say “I am proud of the progress you have made in math.” Therefore, if your son or daughter has problems with a mathematical concept for example, he or she will be less likely to think “I am not intelligent”, and feel dejected. Your child will likely have more self-confidence to put greater efforts in trying to understand a particular problem.