What’s one of the most damaging things a lot of parents are guilty of doing today? It’s overpraising their kids! That’s the warning from one high profile psychologist.

Dr. Stephen Grosz is the author of The Examined Life. And he says that many parents today are over-praisers. He says they’re complimenting their child for every little thing they do, like “You’re so clever” for a so-so joke, or “You’re the next Picasso!” when they doodle on paper.

But according to Dr. Grosz, that’s “empty praise,” which kills their motivation and can even hurt them academically. That’s because giving high praise for small accomplishments gives children a false sense of self-esteem. Then, when they’re really tested – or competing against other kids – and they’re evaluated fairly, they won’t try as hard because they’re used to getting praise for mediocre effort! They won’t have any idea how hard they actually need to work to achieve things. They’ll also be crushed when they find out they’re not a genius, or Picasso, after all!

And studies back this up. For example, Columbia University researchers recently had one hundred 10-year-olds solve math problems. Afterwards, half were told: “You’re so smart,” while the other half were told, “I can tell you tried really hard.” Then, both groups solved more difficult math problems. The result? Kids who had been told they were smart performed much worse than kids who were praised for working hard. That’s because the kids who were told they were smart expected to do well – just because they were smart. So, they didn’t make as much effort as the kids who were praised for trying hard.

That’s why Dr. Grosz suggests praising your child for their effort. That’ll motivate them to keep working hard, and it’ll build up their confidence in a real way.

Lesson Expert

Meredith McKenna