Compliments will NOT hurt your child: My response to a new parenting trend

I never say something after reading one article about a topic– or even two. I usually don’t even touch it if it seems to be a minority opinion that carries little weight. But this article right here was the article that broke the camel’s back and opened the flood gates to my blog. Big surprise there 😉

I’ve already counted about ten writers who have written on the subject of praise and compliments toward children and everything I’ve read has the same opinion. Compliments, they say, can hold a child back. Saying “You’re so smart with math!” can make a child put less effort into that subject. Saying “Wow you look pretty!” can make a child feel that all they’re worth is what they look like.

Yes, you’ve probably guessed it. About right now I’m rolling my eyes.

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And that’s because this new trendy parenting technique is bogus.

No, I’m not a mom yet and many people would probably tell me I don’t have any room to talk or to give pointers. That’s a fair statement, I suppose, but seeing as how I was once a child and I lead a group of children at church and I did my fair share of child rearing with my little sister growing up and my classroom-size of nieces and nephews I have a teeny bit of room to share my thoughts. So here we go.

Don’t follow the trend. Compliment your child for GOODNESS sake. It won’t kill them. It won’t make them toss aside their interests. It won’t make them turn to a life of drugs or sex. It will only let them know they are appreciated and loved and NOTICED. And that has never been unhealthy. It will never be a bad thing to point out a talent, to compliment a new pretty Easter dress, or to spend the car ride home after soccer practice letting your boy know that his kicks are getting so darn good. It has never hurt and frankly never will.

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My favorite part of my growing up was my parents’ ability to always share what they loved about us. My dad would mention how good my reading was and in turn I devoured every book and wanted to be a BETTER reader for him. My mom would tell me how pretty I was and I decided that yes, I was. And so when middle school came and someone said otherwise I didn’t believe it. My grandma, I remember, would sit with me as I wrote stories in my notepad, and she told me I was her favorite writer. And I’ve never stopped writing. I also never let anyone deter me.

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The compliments, some of these articles state, should simply be tailored. Instead of my parents telling me what a great writer I am the writers claim that they should have made a comment about how much effort I put into my writing instead and what a great ambition that is. That’s ridiculous, to put it mildly.

Your kid will never die from kind words. No one ever will.

Compliments in excess, I’ve seen, can harm a child. I’ll admit to that. We should never build children made of egos, entitlement, or pride that makes them peer down their noses at other children. But our words should be crafted to urge them on in their passions and to help mold and shape the self-esteem and confidence that they’ll carry for the rest of their lives.

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Well, there have been studies, Kayla, you might say. It’s right there in black and white that children shrink away from talents and responsibility or feel self-conscious when you compliment or praise them.

And it’s true I’m no psychologist. But what I DO know is that when I tell my neice Rachel that her fiery red hair is the prettiest color I’ve ever seen she tends to glow. When I tell my primary kids that they are amazing listeners, they tend to listen more intently.

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Kids are impressionable, vulnerable spirits that need to be molded and formed in one way or another. The world will try to form them, at some point, when you aren’t looking. The world tell your child she’s fat. The world will tell your boy he runs like a girl or is too skinny to have girls like him. The world will tell our kids that they’re dumb or slow or not as good as the others. They will hear enough from the world.

They need to hear from us first.

And that needs to sound beautiful.

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19 thoughts on “Compliments will NOT hurt your child: My response to a new parenting trend

  1. Amen! I still remember some of the compliments I received as a child 40 some odd years ago. They made a difference to me. And I, too, have seen my children glow and try harder after being given sincere, honest praise and compliments. They need it!

  2. I have more to say but will write it later…but I will say this…Using the word ‘great’ in a compliment to a child is pretty lame. The really aren’t great at much as a child because of the lack of experience……I would rather say ‘You stuck with it and got better.’ IN the end I always go with kindness.

  3. Any positive reinforcement will empower a child. We all know how negativity affects us, it’s that more crushing to a child when an adult does it and almost impossible to believe otherwise when told. Why bother even trying if your teacher, coach, boss, parents tell you you’re not cutting it. That’s far more dangerous to be experimenting on our children. Parents do have their work cut out for them and the majority is all by trial and error if done by others but if you have your own ideas, plans, disciplines use them and research anything else suggested. Remember every child is an individual and you have to adjust parenting techniques per child believe me! My oldest is 26 my youngest is 13! Be sweet, kind and loving. The world will most definitely spit out its ugliest negativity, a solid foundation makes them impervious to what life twists they face in the classrooms or when starting their own families.

    • My 13yo has taught herself to draw anime freehand and computerized, speak, read and write Japanese. Her work is a great accomplishment! I don’t feel lame nor feel it’s lame saying her work is great. One day she’s singing in English, a week later she’s jamming in Japanese. I’m one proud momma!

  4. Go ahead, compliment your kids. Since you are most often the person that tells them when they do something wrong, they need to hear you also think they do a lots right. If you don’t praise them also, they will remember you as the negative person in their life and may even quit listening to you or even refuse contact when they are grown. Saw this with one of my friends. I had trouble staying friends because of her negative vibe. And I had the option of going home..

  5. You go, Kayla! I’m prettydang sure you do know what you are talking about. In fact, you did a GREAT job! Tons of love from a mother of four and soon-to-be gramma of five!

  6. As an early childhood educator I can see your very valid point – but I also understand where others are coming from. What research has shown is that when our praise (which needs to also be genuine) is specific it let’s kids know exactly what they did. Great, good – those words really don’t clarify exactly what great and good is. For example, You are getting so good a putting your toys away! Look how great the room looks because of your hard work”. I know when I’m talking to my children’s I don’t want to hear – they are or aren’t doing good. I want specifics. Specific praise also allows children to be praised for the process and not just the end product which provides affirmation and encouragement to continue and not give up. For those times when something may just be beyond them – they don’t have to feel like a complete failure. We all have strengths and weaknesses. It gives them the knowledge that their efforts and hard work are just as important as their accomplishments.It helps them learn to value hard work. In terms of flaming red hair – or that cute yellow dress they look darling in – they have no control over whether they get flaming red hair or look cute in a certain dress – genetics pretty much took care of that. That does NOT mean HOWEVER that there is anything wrong with saying “I LOVE your flaming red hair – it brings a huge smile to my heart!”

  7. Kayla, I think you are right. All things are good in balance, and that includes how we compliment our kids. I loved what another commenter said above–we need to be careful as parents that we are giving more positive comments to our kids, than negative. They are so impressionable! Thank you for giving a great response to another side of the issue! Glad I could find your blog! 🙂

  8. I am glad you wrote this, saw a lot of the articles and didn’t bother to read them because they seemed ridiculous to me. Considering that there are parents who shower and bathe their children in praise, I can see how this would be warranted advice to maybe back off a little, but I think you are right; I’m about to be a mother and my instant reaction to the articles was to think, “No, I think I WILL compliment my little girl, thank you.” I mean, as a kid for me, the praise about my writing or art or whatever was about instead being told, in a way, that it was worthwhile for me to continue. The reason I write still is in part passion and the need to do so, but in large part because people told me I was good and it seemed to me worth it to continue. And I think it’s just like you said, the love and the attention is important.

    Even if there’s been studies, that doesn’t prove anything – studies never tend to – and I’d be interested to see what the studies actually say or were testing so really, I think personal experience trumps studies on this one.

    • I would encourage you not to discount studies – or what I refer to as research. After 30 years of working in the field of early childhood education I have significant experience in seeing the truth behind what theorists and researchers have said.

      • To be clear on my skepticism – yes, research is valuable. Usually we don’t hear actual research, usually we hear some journalistic sum-up that is oft badly mistaken on what was actually studied or concluded by the research – and the scientific method is also set up as such that it is literally impossible for it to actually prove anything true. Disprove, yes, prove, no. Correlations repeatedly shown do have their uses, but likewise should never be taken as cause and effect either. Which I’m certain you know, but again to explain my skepticism I say this. Studies are useful but they’re not everything and we don’t spend nearly enough time repeating things or reporting them in non-academic jargon for me to have huge immediate faith in any reportings.

  9. I too am an Early Childhood educator. As has already been mentioned, I think the key here is balance. When children are praised in a “can do no wrong” kind of fashion, they are being set up with a false sense of importance and disappointment when they find out the world doesn’t think as much of them as Mom and Dad. Compliments that end in “est” (ie: smartest, best, prettiest) are the ones that do the most damage. There is no reason to set children up to think they are superior to anyone. It is just not healthy for the child or his peers. Just because a child scored at the top of the class or won the spelling bee, doesn’t necessarily make them the smartest. There are many different kinds of “smarts” in different domains of life. Even Olympic Gold medalists may beat out a “better” athlete based on a technicality, not actual skill or talent. If not this year or this class – someone will come along to be “better”, and the result to a child set up with a grandiose sense of self can be devastating. Best to help children see the value in their peers and not compare them to others in an “est” fashion.

    Likewise, it takes many positive statements to combat one negative (1000 to 1, according to Dr. Phil). Compliments should be constructive and always leave room for higher achievement. “Wow! I love what you did with those color combinations! What will you try next?” is a classic praise laced with encouragement. “Gee, you look cute today!” is way better than “You are so cute”. This kind of compliment that leaves room for “cuteness” to be achieved again later, with the reality that there may be days we are “less” cute, and that’s OK. How exhausting would it be to a child if he/she had to perform or look cute 24/7? (Hollywood child syndrome comes to mind.)

    The best compliments are those that are affirming and build relationships, security and love. “I am so proud of you!” – “I will always love you, no matter what!” – “I am so glad you are my son/daughter!” – builds more confidence than praise and compliments ever will.

  10. I hadn’t seen that yet… I can’t believe it. My daughter is only six months old and I compliment her on everything already. I mean it really is impressive that she is growing and developing at her own pace. But I get so excited when she does something new or starts to do something better. I think if you just give your children a lot of positive interaction rather than negative interaction your children will excel more than anything else. I will always compliment my daughter and I will always be optimistic in my parenting.

  11. I love this! First let me say that my childhood was great. However, my parents never complimented me, and I remember and recognize that! I was never told I was pretty, or smart, or great at anything. And guess what? I never felt pretty, or smart , or great at anything. I performed everything very average, but my potential was much greater.
    I am raising my kids different, and I see a difference in them. Never hold back kindness, I don’t care what the “research” says. I know from experience.

  12. When studying Early Childhood ED in college, i got in a big argument with my professor over this very point. Kids read through the BS of “wow, you worked really hard on that” there is nothing wrong with “wow, that picture is amazing! i love it!” the world is a hard nasty place, my home will be my children’s soft place, where they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are awesome.

    • Becky J – I totally agree, the home needs to be the soft place. What your ECE prof was likely talking about was classroom responses. We have to be careful not to show one student too flowery a praise in front of others so as not to show favoritism and open a Pandora’s box of competitiveness and hurt feelings. Often students will say to me, “Do you like my picture?” My response is always, “Hmmmmm, do YOU like your picture?” They always say “Yes!” I respond with, “Well I like it too! It’s more important what YOU think about your work,” and then talk about specific colors or shapes I see that are pleasing.. There are times in class that when a child does something new or out of the ordinary, I use the work as an example to show so and so’s “idea” to the class, (ie: first child who makes an attempt at invented spelling) which will motivate others to try making their own words on their pictures. In those cases, I try to follow up with the student after class, helping him “show off” his work to Mom. I think it’s all about following the spirit of the Early Childhood “laws” over the letter of the laws.

  13. I agree with your statement that children need compliments from the most meaningful people in their lives. I know of a man who decided to not compliment his daughters on their beauty because he didn’t want them to have a big head over it. All other achievements were also under appreciated. The girls grew up under achievers, hungered in big ways for acceptance, recognition, and to feel like they knew their place with peace and confidence .

    When parents withhold the elements that teach a child their worth and value, to the child, the child will not walk in what they are worthy of. If parents build into their children Value and Worth then the child can present their best to the world with meaningfulness and make a positive impact.

    Withholding is abuse.

    Do not defraud your children of their value and worth by holding back words from a sincere heart that teaches them who they are which helps them become their best version of themselves!

  14. Late to the party, but thank you for this. I’m the mom of two little boys. I compliment them genuinely. Anytime I experience something positive from them, I tell them. I think it’s really important. I was raised with no compliments. Ever. I could always do better. I was the youngest and the only girl. Everyone will tell you that equates to a spoiled child adored and doted on by her whole family. That’s definitely the opposite of my experience. When I got my first serious boyfriend at nearly 17 he was appalled that my father never told me I was pretty. My mother never did either. I’m 36 and she’s said things in the last two weeks that were really hurtful about my looks. But then she gets upset that I have always had terribly low self-esteem. When I have had the come to Jesus talks with her about stuff, she says empty things. To me they’re empty, because she says things later that contradict whatever compliment she gave under duress.

    My best friend was raised 100% differently from me. She’s a whole other beast. She has terrible self-esteem because she got to the real world and found out she’s not really a princess and entitled to nothing. So yes, I grew up with much more maturity as a result, but we were equally messed up.

    Don’t dote on your kids. Don’t worship them or give them false expectations of the world. But don’t hold your compliments in fear they’ll grow up like my friend. Because feeling unworthy had me contemplating suicide as young as 5. I’ve struggled with wanting to off myself from that age. Others have shown me my worth and I’m much better for it now. But it shouldn’t take 30 years. Be kind to your children. We should always always be their biggest champion.

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