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The importance of praising your kids

March 15 is Absolutely Incredible Kids Day. Created by Camp Fire USA, it’s celebrated on the third Thursday in March each year.

Absolutely Incredible Kids Day is a national letter writing campaign that encourages parents and caregivers to let kids know how valuable and amazing they are.

On this day, every parent should write a letter to each of their children to praise, support and encourage them. It can be a long formal letter, a short note, a postcard, a greeting card or even an email– as long as it let’s your children know how valuable and absolutely incredible they are.

Though the Absolutely Incredible Kids Day campaign is fantastic, our children need to hear praise and positive comments every single day of the year. Genuine praise helps build self esteem in children of all ages. Unfortunately, children hear and see too much negativity far too often.

Self-esteem by the numbers

According to a research study at the University of Iowa, the average 2-year-old child hears 432 negative statements per day but only 32 positive statements each day.

Self-esteem expert Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame often cites a study that says 80 percent of children entering school in the first grade scored high on the self-esteem inventory. By the fifth grade, only 20 percent of them were scoring high. And by the time they graduated high school, that number was down to just 5 percent.

So, who is responsible for the development of self-esteem? Canfield says that in a survey of 1000 parents and 1000 teachers, 72 percent of the parents said teachers were responsible, while 78 percent of the teachers said the parents were. Don’t drop the ball. Learn to cut the negativity and encourage your children through genuine praise.

Too much praise

Though well-intentioned, too much praise can also be detrimental. If you praise your kids constantly in a manner that is insincere, it can hinder their growth. Children who are praised for their every move may become afraid to take risks and try new things for fear of not always being on top. Too much praise can also lead to some children becoming overconfident and cocky — you don’t want to raise a conceited brat.

Read about how not to raise a brat >>

On the other hand, some children may recognize that your praise is insincere, and then you’ll lose their trust. Additionally, artificial praise that you dole out to kids to save their feelings will lead to an inaccurate sense of their own strengths and limits. If your child does fail at something, praise the effort, encourage them to try again and look at the situation for learning opportunities. Helping your children recognize and manage their weaknesses is as important as encouraging development of their strength and gifts.

Read our parents’ guide to praising your child >>

Effective praise

Praise needs to be genuine, sincere and focused on your child’s effort and hard work, not necessarily the outcome. For example, you should praise and encourage your child for going to basketball practice, working hard on their skills and facing new challenges, not just praise them when he/she wins the game.

Though praising your child is a vital part of fostering their confidence and self-esteem, the quality of the praise is more important than the quantity. Avoid praising your children’s attributes (“You’re so pretty and smart.”) and instead focus on their actions (“You worked so hard on that project.”). Encourage kids to try new, more difficult activities through praise, rather than rewarding and acknowledging them for the things that come easy.

By being genuine and specific with your praise and encouragement, you can help build your child’s self-confidence while teaching him/her about the importance of effort and hard work. Try to eliminate constant negativity in your household and put the focus on all the wonderful, positive things your children are doing instead.

More about praise and self esteem

Boost your child’s self-esteem
Help your child become less shy and more confident
How to boost your daughter’s self-esteem

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