The Effective Use of Praise

Dr. Trish Henrie shares helpful hints on how to effectively use praise in your parenting.

Some psychologists, educators and researchers propose that our society has gone too far in praising children. They believe that we have raised a generation of individuals who are too self focused, even bordering on narcissism and entitlement. The 1970’s through the 90’s was a time when schools and parents were urged to focus on a child’s self esteem. Slogans such as “You can do anything you want”, “You are special” and “You don’t need to care about what other’s think” have produced Generation Me or those who are outward focused instead of inward focused. They tend to care about external rewards or be motivated by other’s opinions instead of focused on what they feel and think. They seem to care more about fame than contentment, the good of themselves instead of the good of society, and they believe that the world revolves around them according to Jean Twenge, Ph.d. Most professionals believe this is not healthy for society or for the individual as it produces feelings of entitlement. This is manifest in the individual that believes that just because they try they should win ( – i.e. American Idol) or the young professional who thinks that just because they have a master’s degree they should be making as much as the company vice president who has been working for over 20 years. Teachers report that there is a lack of respect from students who believe they know more than the teacher. In addition the student and the parent at times believe that a good grade should be given just for effort.

Following are some helpful hints for parents on the use of praise.

1. Make sure your motivation for praising your child is about the child and not about you as a parent. Are you living through the child and not accepting them for who they are instead of who you want them to be? Sometimes parents get too involved in their children’s lives because they don’t have a life of their own. Go to a ballpark and listen. You will see those parents whose own self worth is tied up in the performance of their children. I am familiar with a mother who got so involved in her daughter’s life that she demanded that a teacher change a grade so that the daughter could be valedictorian. The daughter deserved the lower grade, but it was all about the prestige and status for the mother. What this engenders is children who are not content with who they are. They feel like they are never enough but have to be something for the parent. Create an atmosphere in your home of acceptance and encouragement. Accept the child for who they are instead of what you want them to be. Encourage their process of becoming.

2. Use encouragement instead of praise when working with your child. Focus on how the child’s behavior makes them feel instead of relying on externals like money or rewards. Encouragement helps the child to self-evaluate instead of being judged by the parent.

3. Focus on specifics that are reality based. For instance, say “You are such a good reader and you sound out your words perfectly” instead of “You are a great student”. Maybe the child isn’t a good student. Children know their shortcomings and they quickly see through insincere praise.

4. Encourage realistic goals. Help your child be content with their own specific talents and abilities. At times it is impossible for an individual to be anything they want – i.e. a pro basketball player if they are only 5′ 6.

5. Be careful of using best or other adjectives which may compare your child to others. Help the child focus on their own strengths. Children thrive when they understand their uniqueness and thatthey don’t have to be someone else. Help them be content with who they are and real about that.

6. Praise the process and not the end result. Use phrases such as “You have been working so hard to get that paper done. What have you learned about yourself?” Teach the child to work hard and then they will work hard in all areas of their lives.

7. Teach responsibility and self reliance. Teach the child that they are responsible for their own lives and they can’t blame others for their shortcomings. Start early. If you try to teach your child that they are responsible to get themselves up in the morning when they are a senior in high school, it won’t work. Get them an alarm clock when they are Tell them they need to get themselves up and ready for school on time. This will generalize to other areas in their lives.

Praise Encouragement

is based on

are given

is based on
internal feelings   

are asked
Non judmental, self evaluation is promoted


Generation Me, Jean Twenge, Ph.D.
• Love and Logic Program

Trish Henrie is a counselor in Orem/Provo and teaches 3 Positive Psychology courses at the University of Utah. She believes in using positive psychological principles to She works with families, teenagers, and individuals to better their relationships, to use effective skills in parenting, and to learn responsibility and self-reliance in their lives. She can be reached at (801) 787 -9855.

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