Expert Parent Advice

Are We Raising A Generation of Praise Junkies?

We’ll reveal the important difference between praise and encouragement and how to avoid raising kids who are dependent on praise from others.

I’m Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, and I’m proud to partner with Kids ‘R’ Kids for the Expert Parenting Advice series.  Today, we’re talking about praise junkies!

“I’m so proud of you!”  “You are such a good boy!”  “You're so smart!”  “You were awesome!”  “You are such an amazing artist!”

All parents have uttered statements like these to their children at one time or another.  It’s good parenting, right?  Or could you be raising a praise junkie?

A praise junkie is a person who needs consistent affirmation from others to feel confident in his or her own ability or choices.  Younger praise junkies may seek approval from parents and teachers.  “Do you like my painting, Daddy?”  “Was that a good shot?” 

Seeking affirmation from Mom and Dad may not seem like a big deal – and if we’re honest, it makes us feel good.  But fast-forward a few years and as kids get older, the praise junkie will likely turn to the peer group for approval, which is not what most parents hope for.

Praise junkie kids eventually become high maintenance employees needing ongoing awards,  “Atta boys,” and recognition to affirm that he or she is doing a good job. 

If you’re afraid you may be raising a praise junkie or you want to make sure that doesn’t happen down the road, we recommend three important strategies:

1.  Shift the focus from external to internal motivation.

When your child says ”Do you like it Mommy?” respond with “Well, it’s more important how YOU feel about it.  What do YOU like about your painting?”

Instead of letting “I’m so proud of you” roll off your tongue, instead say, “You must be so proud of YOURSELF!”

It’s fine that they know you’re proud of them, but it’s more important that they be proud of themselves.  We want to instill in them the internal pride and motivation to take on new challenges, to work hard and to make their own decisions, even if it is counter to the pressure of the peer group. 

It may feel awkward at first when parents say “You must be proud of yourself,” but you’ll notice your child beam with pride from the inside!

2.  Focus on the process versus the “end product.”

Pay less attention to the end product – the A on the science test, the goal she scored, the “amazing” painting, and focus on the process it took to get that.

For example, instead of saying, “Wow, you got an A in science!” say, “Wow, you must have put in a lot of hard work and study time.”  Again, it’s great to get A’s, but how will your son feel if he works like crazy but brings home a C in Spanish? Should he feel bad about that if he did his very best?

Parents should focus on the process – the hard work and perseverance, especially when things get tough.  Encouraging those qualities can help all kids to feel good on the inside, not dependent on others for approval.

3.  Avoid Labels – positive or negative. 

Most parents know that negative labels are discouraging to kids.  However, to avoid raising praise junkies, parents should also avoid positive labels.  Labels like smart, pretty and athletic are external labels that put unnecessary pressure on kids to always live up to those labels. 

Dr. Carol Dweck’s Columbia University research on the impact of praise concluded that when kids were labeled as “smart,” they felt the pressure to protect their “smart label.” In her study, the children in the “smart” control group were less likely to take on challenging problems for fear they would compromise their smart label.  On the flip side, students who were encouraged for their hard work were willing to take on more challenging tasks and even enjoyed trying to come up with new solutions.

All parents want to raise capable, confident and motivated kids.  However, praising kids too much can have the opposite effect.  A good rule for parents to live by is to treat praise like candy – a small amount is fine, but a steady diet can be toxic.

And visit us often for more helpful solutions from the Kids ‘R’ Kids Expert Parenting Advice series.

I’m Amy McCready for Kids ‘R’ Kids and I’ll see you next time.