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Sherri Richards, Published April 03 2013

Complimenting kids

FARGO – Tracy Thorson sees the power of complimenting kids in crisis.

Even in the midst of chaos, a verbal compliment makes the child feel good, says Thorson, children services coordinator for the YWCA in Fargo.

Thorson has been trained in the Nurtured Heart Approach, which emphasizes positive behaviors, including praising children for good choices.

A compliment is a form of praise, Thorson says.

Nurtured Heart encourages caregivers to not just catch kids being good but create moments to compliment. For example, a parent may compliment a messy child when he or she makes less of a mess than normal.

When Thorson does parenting education, she challenges parents struggling with difficult behaviors to compliment their child once an hour.

It’s important this praise be specific, she says, and that the child understand why their positive behaviors are important.

These detailed compliments also show children you’re taking time to pay attention to them, she says.

“It’s making sure the children know we see how great they are,” Thorson says.

However, adults may unintentionally give the wrong kind of compliment.

Recent research published by the American Psychological Association found that praising children for their personal qualities (“You’re a great artist”) instead of their efforts (“You made a great painting”) may make them feel more ashamed when they fail, especially if they have low self-esteem.

“Adults may feel that praising children for their inherent qualities helps combat low self-esteem, but it might convey to children that they are valued as a person only when they succeed,” said lead researcher Eddie Brummelman of Utrecht University in the Netherlands in an article on ScienceDaily.com. “When children subsequently fail, they may infer they are unworthy.”

Ironically, a separate study found parents were more likely to give that exact sort of praise to children with low self-esteem.

“The researchers theorized that children who are praised for their efforts may not associate their self-worth with success, so failure is viewed as a temporary setback or a lack of effort rather than a flaw in their character,” the ScienceDaily.com article said.

“What we want to tell children is whether they do well or don’t do well, succeed or fail, we want them first to value themselves, and know they have value simply because they exist. We also want them to know they’re accepted,” says Barb Chromy, a counselor with the Village Family Service Center in Fargo.

– Sherri Richards