How to Praise Your Kids

Constant compliments can do more harm than good. We'll help you pare back the praise -- and give it more meaning.

Are We Overcomplimenting?

"That's the most beautiful picture I've ever seen -- wow!"

"It was very nice of you to say please."

"I'm so proud of you for hitting that home run in the T-ball game."

As parents, we've become addicted to praising our kids. But as we try to make them feel good about themselves 24-7, we actually may be harming them. When you applaud your child for things that aren't true achievements (she goes down the slide or hangs up her coat without your help), she'll begin to expect praise all the time, which diminishes its power. "Overpraising a child can get her hooked on success and celebration instead of being satisfied by her own accomplishment," says Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, author of Praising Boys Well and Praising Girls Well.

Even if your praise is sincere, you may not be using it the right way. If your compliments tend to be about you ("I think you did a great job") rather than about your child ("I'll bet you're proud of yourself"), she'll start to look for your approval every time she does something.

But that doesn't mean you should drop praise from your disciplinary playbook. If you use it the right way, it's a valuable tool for reinforcing good behavior, boosting your child's self-esteem, and making her feel loved, appreciated, and inspired. Just follow these 10 rules.

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