It was the first day of the indoor soccer season this weekend. For the first time, our boys were interested in getting out and playing team sports, so we registered. It’s been a struggle to get them to participate in some activities, so we have to nudge and push a little bit, but once they eventually try it, they like it.
The smiles were so big, the enthusiasm bursting, as was our pride. It was so thrilling to see our boys eager to participate, listen to the coach, and burst down the court to score.
We gushed when the “game” was over, exalting how great their play was, their participation skills, and ability to listen to the coach.
I don’t think we heaped on over-praise, we were just trying to reinforce a positive behavior and have the trend continue.
The journal Psychological Science will be publishing a study that has tongues wagging about the effects of our well-intentioned parental praise.
“It’s good to become aware of the messages you send to a child even when the message is well intended, it might have unintended consequences,” said the study’s lead author Eddie Brummelman.
It’s not over-praise, per se, that affects the behavior of kids, it’s the kind of praise we give. When we tell a child “oh you’re so smart,” they tend to take an easier route. Praising a child’s effort, on the other hand, has them continue to work hard to achieve results.
It also depends on the starting point of a child’s self esteem. When children with low self-confidence were over-praised when doing a drawing, for example, they felt pressure to live up to the high standard and tended to shrink even more in the face of pressure.
“In general, children with low self-esteem are more risk adverse because they fear failure,” Dr. Steven Meyers, a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University is quoted as adding in The Huffington Post. “This can be triggered by parents who use excessive praise. The idea is that children who have low self-esteem are more anxious about maintaining a high level of praise. They’re less likely to believe that they’ll be praised again when praise is excessive, so they start to choose easier tasks.”
Perhaps the reason my boys are not as eager to take on new challenges is a lack of confidence. Could my over-praise of their first day successes actually be making things worse instead of encouraging many happy days with orange slices to come?
When soccer reconvenes for another round on Tuesday night, I’ll be sure to not comment on my son’s obvious natural scoring ability and sure path to success in MLS, but rather commend him for trying hard in the drills, listening well to his coaches, and making an effort to finally learn to tie his shoes.
How do you praise your kids and encourage them? Have you had problems with over-praise?