Sometimes, it seems like the only way to get people to do something is by praising them — not that there is anything wrong with that. Praise serves as a great motivator for accomplishments. Children especially are fond of praise — and it's especially helpful when teaching them certain things, such as when they're potty training. But is there a right way to praise your child? One recent study, conducted in South Korea, has found evidence that there is a right way and a wrong way to praise children.
The study, conducted by researchers and published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that parental praise leads to "higher academic achievement and better psychological health in school children." That's pretty awesome. Who wouldn't want their child to succeed in school or be mentally healthy, with some simple praise being a contributing factor to this?
Still, parents might have to re-think how they approach that praise. What the study found was that children who found that their parent's praise accurately reflected reality turned out to be happier and perform better in schools. Meaning, when a child gets an impossible Jeopardy! question right, tell them that they're doing a great job — but don't praise them too much, and be careful not to praise when it's unwarranted (positive reinforcement is an entirely different discussion, of course). According to the study, the amount of praise should reflect the accomplishment — the bigger the accomplishment, the more praise a child should receive.
Over-praising or under-praising your child could have serious, negative consequences. The study found both too much praise and not enough praise allowed for children to perform poorly in school and have bad self-esteem. As for parents, the study even found that many felt they were giving their child more praise than their child actually deserved.
So how does a parent know when their praise is just right? According to Parents Magazine, one way for parents to perfect their praise is to change the way they're phrasing it. Instead of praising the outcome of their child's actions, parents should emphasize on the effort their child has made to get to that outcome. It is this positive reinforcement, matched with the size of their efforts, that allows children to feel as if their praise is accurately reflecting their performance. (At the same time, parents shouldn't get too caught up in turning a gleaming spotlight on kids — according to Forbes, a 2015 study found that constant and sometimes undeserved praise can lead to narcissism in children.)
The study's researchers hope that this study will lead to parents feeling confident in how they're praising their child:
As our results reveal, self-admitted gaps between given praise and actual performance had predictive power for important child outcomes. If parents and educators feel uneasy when they think about the accuracy of the praise they offer, they should take this as a warning sign.
Long story short? Parents should continue to praise their children — but make sure they're matching their children's accomplishments. Everyone will be much happier that way.