The Problem with Praise
Edith A, Buie, M.A., M.F.T.
Any good parent wants to make his/her child feel good about himself, right? We all know the enormous impact strong self-esteem has upon a child. Parents spend a lot of effort trying to build self-esteem in their children, knowing that a belief in yourself and confidence in your own value is so fundamental to achievement, success, and happiness. So when 5 year old Bobby runs up to show you his artistic masterpiece, you are apt to exclaim with PRAISE and tell him “How beautiful! I love it! You might let him know how those squiggles and scribbles are signs of an emerging Picasso or Rembrandt. That might be the case, but let’s face it, you are stretching things a bit in the effort to make Bobby feel good.
In praising the artwork, you have accidentally turned the judgment of its value over to you. You have become the critic, though a kind one. You have fostered the idea that the value of Bobby’s work is not internal or intrinsic, but external. So Bobby learns to feel good only with your approval, which does nothing to foster his inner self-approval. He learns to look outside himself to feel good and assess his own value when what you really want is for him to feel good based upon his own perception, not someone else’s. PRAISE will not help him build a strong sense of himself.
But what if instead you asked Bobby to tell you about his drawing, ask him why he chose the colors he did, what is the drawing about, whether he would like to tell you the story or feelings in his artwork? Then you would be inviting Bobby to look inside himself for answers and awareness and value in his work. It takes a bit of thought and creativity to do this as a parent, but you will find it well worth it. Because you will be building real self-esteem, which, after all, comes from the inside!
Edith A. Buie, M.A., M.F.T.
Edith has been a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist since 1987 and has extensive experience working with children, adolescents, adults, families and couples. She has been a parenting teacher and consultant for many years and is committed to helping families develop loving relationships and solve discipline problems and other parenting challenges.
Edith was the Clinical Director of a California funded Healthy Start project in two LAUSD elementary schools and worked as a clinical supervisor training psychotherapy interns for 12 years in settings focused upon the well-being of young children and families. She now maintains a private practice in Culver City, California.