“Where will they breast feed?”: re-thinking praise


That sound the straw makes – Funnermother.com

Thing 1 is not as confident as I’d like; a few years ago I choked with angst about my former micro preemie: “We celebrated every damned bowel movement!  How could he not be brimming over with love and confidence?”  A couple of his sullen “yeah, I know” responses to my praise taught me that it was falling on deaf, or jaded, ears.  Huffington Post’s Catherine Pearson recently reported that “a new study suggests that when adults shower children with compliments to try to boost their self-esteem, it has the opposite effect, sending the message that they must continue to meet very high standards and discouraging them from taking on new, confidence-boosting challenges, lest they fail.” Ah, yes.



Bugs for protein – Funnermother.com

I am finding it more respectful to engage their ideas than to praise.  My son (10) and I laugh at the tenacity of my favorite questions about his Lego castles, ships, command stations, and bases: Where are the women?  [He includes them now.]  Is there a birthing room? Where will they breastfeed?  Where is the nursery for the next generation of… sailors, royalty, explorers?  Do you know how many scales you drew on that dragon?  Is that a bridle?  Are those wings big enough to carry his weight?  Who is riding him?  Where are they going?  What kinds of bugs are you willing to eat?  My questions reinforce our family values. Yet it feels different to enter his world than to praise him, and I think it feeds him more.  I KNOW it improves our relationship every time I hold still for a minute to think about his creation.  It’s hard for me to hold still.  Harder than praise, and more worth it.

Pearson, C.  “The Over-Praise Dilemma: When Complimenting Kids Actually Holds Them Back” Huffington Post, 6 January 2014.


9 thoughts on ““Where will they breast feed?”: re-thinking praise

    • Yes, my 10-y-o is starting to bristle at the questions. Luckily, he’s a reader, and we are still a book family, so I can observe a lot of his interests right there… good luck! I’m hoping to have/build a good springboard into the teen years. xx A


  1. Angela, every time I read your stories I WANT TO BE YOUR KID! How blessed they are to have such a smart and cool mom. I wonder what we can learn here about adult relationships? To pay more attention, to be engage, to stay in the moment, to not jump ahead to the next thing. Thanks for drawing me back to my playful childhood and inspiring me to think differently.


  2. As an ex-teacher I can tell you that praise definitely works as reinforcement for pets (my crazy cat is now calming down as we acclimate to each other) but is not necessarily the be-all and end-all for kids. I’ve found that they need their minds challenged and they need to be acknowledged for who they are more. Elaine is right . . . YOU ARE SUCH A COOL MOM! I must share something here . . . I had a kid in my class who was a problem child seek my help years later when I was a dietitian and he was security in a Cigna building where we were both working. I helped him make weight and bulk up for an elite armed forces unit to which he was aspiring. He got in! And told me that I was the best teacher he ever had. This was 20 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. Something I did inspired him. I wonder what?


    • “they need to be acknowledged for who they are more” — Yes, I am learning that you’re right! And adults want the same thing, I think. Unconditional love does not equal nonstop praise. I do love your teaching story, teachers are the bees’ knees! Thank you for stopping by my blog, and keep on teaching! xx Angela


  3. What can we learn about this as adults, and as business entrepreneurs looking for ways to nurture our clients? Very simple. People love to have someone take an interest in THEM. They love to be heard. They love to feel listened to. Cared about. It’s easy to say, “you’re cute, that’s a nice shirt, you must be smart…” But to listen to an opinion, a feeling, a hurt, a story…. that is an investment of focus, energy, compassion and time. That is love. Kids AND adults can feel the difference.


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