How to praise kids effectively

admin-ajaxHave you ever told a child that they did such a good job coloring their picture and then hear the child respond saying, “No I didn’t.  I messed up on his nose.  I don’t like it.”

Why is it some kids argue when their parents try to praise them rather than beam with joy?  Well, sometimes, kids can feel insecure about themselves or develop a belief that they are not good at something or even that they are not good in general.  When we praise these kids, their praise goes against their child’s belief system and it makes them feel uncomfortable.  They end up arguing against the praise and the parent in frustration may say something like, “fine, you didn’t do a good job then.”

Such interactions between parents and kids can be frustrating and even worrisome.  Parents want to share with their kids how great the parents think their kids are, and they want their kids to feel good, but when the kids disagree when parents complements them, they sometimes feel stuck and confused.

If you have a child like this or know of kids who don’t handle praise very well, you may experiment with a form of praise that sinks in deep and that is difficult to argue with.  For instance, rather than putting a judgment on a child’s creation or a particular action they’ve done, which causes them to hold your judgment against what they already feel and believe, you could try to praise without judgment. This might sound like, “I love to see the pictures you make” instead of saying “you did such a good job”. Another example is saying “it’s so nice when I get to watch you play” instead of “you were the best kid out on the field”.

It’s hard for kids to argue with a parent when a parent shares how they feel about their child rather than judging the quality of performance of the child.

Additionally, when we praise kids, we can help the praise sink in deeper by adding warm eye-contact, and smiling at them when we say something like, “I really appreciate when you pick up your clothes and toys.  It really helps me out.”  We can also add a soft hand on the back or shoulder when we say things like “I feel so lucky you’re my kid.”

Over time of praising our kids in ways that show them how much we enjoy them and delight in them, our kids can feel a greater sense of security and belonging.  This type of praise can even help kids who tend to reject praise and help them feel more wanted and loved.


Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona.  He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Therapy Group.

He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculumclasses for parents of children with ADHDstep-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents.  He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.