Brag-Proof Your Child

Nobody likes a little kid with a big ego. Teaching humility will go a long way toward making her a better -- and happier -- person.

Building Confidence or Her Ego?

little girl standing on a pedestal

Jim Franco

My husband and I have spent countless hours telling our daughter Bellamy how pretty she is, how smart she is, and -- whenever she shows off a dance move or plays a few notes on the piano -- how talented she is. It's our job to build up her confidence, right? But when she came home from kindergarten one day and announced, "Mommy, I'm the best singer in my whole class," I thought, "Uh-oh." Maybe our nonstop compliments had turned our little girl into a budding egomaniac.

As a parent, it's hard not to get caught in the raging tide of praise-mania. Check out a local bookstore and you'll find rows of titles telling you how to raise a self-assured child -- and barely any about making sure she's modest. What's wrong with making your kid feel good about himself? "The problem is that it's very easy to go overboard," says Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, author of Spoiling Childhood: How Well-Meaning Parents Are Giving Children Too Much -- But Not What They Need.

If you're constantly letting your child know how great he is, he'll develop an unrealistically high regard for his abilities -- and an ego that might make him insensitive to other people's feelings (not to mention unpopular).

But it's not too late to avoid the parent-praise trap. To control your child's swagger, teach him to appreciate the things other people can do -- and accept his own limitations. Instilling a sense of modesty from a young age will help your child make friends more easily and learn the value of teamwork. And by dialing down the praise, you'll be helping -- not hurting -- him over the long term. "Kids who are accurate judges of their talents are better at overcoming the obstacles they'll face in school and later on in life," says Robin Goodman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York.

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