Preschoolers and Praise
How the right words can build a child’s confidence
Praise inspires and nurtures. It increases the recipient’s self-esteem and confidence.
Christine Newman, preschool teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Maple Shade, NJ, finds that the more she praises her young charges, the better their behavior is in her class. “The students want to hear that their table is working the best or their group is doing an amazing job. I also find when I praise them, they praise each other,” she notes. Praise is contagious; it makes everyone feel good.
A research study published in the journal Child Development found that toddlers whose parents had praised and encouraged their independence were more likely to persevere through struggles and continue to challenge themselves. So how should parents praise their preschoolers?
What should I say to praise my preschooler?
Amy Foster, director of the Robert J. Wilf Preschool and Kindergarten in Wynnewood, PA, says, “I have found that the best way to praise young children is with honesty and sincerity, complimenting specific efforts.”
“If a student is finally able to write his own name properly, instead of praising him with ‘Good job! You’re so smart!,’ you can say, ‘You did it! I can tell you’ve been practicing writing your name!’ When you use specifics, the child has a better understanding of his accomplishments,” says Jina Cherico, junior kindergarten teacher at Saint Edmond’s Academy in Wilmington, DE.
Paula Gleason, preschool teacher at The Schoolhouse Nursery School and Kindergarten in Mt. Laurel, NJ describes her form of praise as “heartfelt language that they can feel and understand.” “I love to praise my little ones with simple, kind words or even gestures that are specific,” she reports. Gleason uses detailed statements like “Thank you for being so kind to your friend and giving him a book.”
When children are given general or fixed praise, they don’t learn that they have control over their abilities. Parents can adapt these tips to situations at home where praise is warranted to recognize a child’s accomplishment.
Can praise be bad for preschoolers?
As is true in most cases, too much of a good thing has the potential to be harmful. Cherico cautions that overpraising a preschooler can be detrimental because, she says, “If a young child is constantly praised, she will always expect to be praised. And too much praise can actually cause a child to act the opposite way” of what you want.
The manner in which adults praise children matters as well. Foster notes, “For example, if praise is coupled with sarcasm, it can be hurtful. Telling a child that you are proud of him for reaching a goal but at the same time saying that ‘it took long enough’ takes away from the actual compliment.” She adds, “I also believe that praising children without honesty can lead to a false sense of confidence and eventually children will discount praise.”
Gleason agrees, “I think praise could be detrimental if it’s not genuine and not specific. Praise is more genuine if children know why you are praising them.”
Cherico’s final thoughts hit home: “When praising little ones, it is important to remember that they are constantly learning. They will make mistakes, they will forget, and they will need help along the way. Being honest with children and being specific when we praise them will help them to trust us as adults and to better understand their accomplishments.”
Janet Tumelty is a South Jersey mom and freelance writer.