Friday, 18 January 2013

Can praising your child really be harmful?

A psychologist claims praising your child can do more harm than good.

Stephen Grosz believes empty praise ultimately leaves children unhappy and can lead to them underachieving at school.

He thinks it is much better to praise a child for the hard effort they have put into achieving something rather than simply saying 'oh you are so clever' or 'oh you are such a great artist', basically when they are not.

The thinking behind this is the child is left feeling they are unable to live up to the high expectations put on them by the adults around them and this can actually lead to low self esteem and feelings of inadequacy.

Mr Grosz, who has written a book called The Examined Life, believes empty praise can be as damaging as thoughtless criticism and can jeopardise a child's sense of self.

He also says adults, in particular the child's parents, like to lavish false praise on their children, because it temporarily raises their own self-esteem.

The first initial problem with this piece of research is how it was headlined in the papers. The header boldly read, 'praising your child can do more harm than good' and my immediate reaction, like many other parents I'm sure was, what is this latest crackpot piece of research by some buffoon carried out in a lab a million miles away from the real world where children actually live.

And the fact is while Mr Grosz thoughts do actually make far more sense than the original headline perhaps indicated they would, I can't help but still be left with a rather negative view of the whole thing.

Of course it is wrong to lavish false, or as Mr Grosz likes to call it, empty, criticism on a child. You only have to watch an episode of the X Factor on television featuring a teenager who has always been praised for having a marvellous singing voice by their parents, only to open their mouths to emit a sound resembling something like nails down a blackboard, to see the extent of the damage praising children where it is not merited can do.

In this respect there are plenty of parents out there who perhaps could do well from listening to Mr Grosz' advice.

But at the same time I think there are an equal number of parents out there who would find being told they were doing something wrong by praising their children on a regular basis a complete affront to their intelligence and natural inclinations as a parent.

I would put myself in that category for sure. I can't help but be filled with a sense of pride at so many of my daughter's achievements and naturally want to praise her for what she has done. I by no means think I ever praise her on any occasion where it is not warranted. If I feel moved to say something then I will do. There is never a time when I think well actually she hasn't done that very well but I'll say something positive anyway.

If that occasion arose though I'm sure I would say something along the lines of I can see the hard work you have put in, but that would come as naturally on that basis as the praise would on another occasion. It is all about common-sense but also about listening to your heart. If you follow this simple rule, and are not tempted to lie to yourself and your children about how great they are, then you can't go wrong. We don't need it spelt out in a book.


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