Build Children's Self-Esteem Through Praise

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
December 07, 2020

Praising children is one of the ways that parents can build up children's self-esteem and self-worth. Having a strong, positive sense of self is important for a child’s development. Ultimately as parents, we want children to grow up to be kind, caring individuals.

Children's behavior may be a reflection of how they feel about themselves. When they hear affirming and positive comments, children view themselves as positive people, and they tend to behave that way toward themselves and others. The same holds true with a negative view of themselves. If children hear enough negative comments, they will begin to internalize them, believe them, and behave accordingly.

Children learn to be nurturing and caring when being treated that way...and praise does just that. There are two distinct kinds of praise that parents can express:

  1. PRAISE FOR BEING means noticing and appreciating a person. Parents can do this by:
    • Hugging your child or ruffling their hair.
    • Saying “I love you,” which is the highest form of praise.
    • Saying “You are so kind.”
    • Acknowledging something about your child’s personality that you like, such as a sense of humor, a positive or caring outlook, or a sunny smile.
  2. PRAISE FOR DOING means noticing and appreciating a person's efforts or performance. To do this, parents should pay attention to the behaviors they want and praise them when they appear. Parents should also provide opportunities for children to experience everyday successes in small specific situations. Some examples of ways to praise for doing include:
    • “Thank you for picking up your toys.”
    • “I really like the way you put your clothes in the hamper.”
    • “I appreciate that you took the dog for a walk.”\
    • Often, parents will say “great job,” which can leave children wondering, “great job for what?” Make sure that you provide specific examples, so children know and understand exactly why you are praising them.

Here are a few other tips for making your praise more personal: 

  • It might seem obvious, but no matter your frame of mind, try to look pleasant when you express your praise. For your children to get the full impact of your words, they have to believe them.
  • Make eye contact with your children and keep your full focus on them when you praise them.
  • Gentle touches like high fives, pats on the back, or fist bumps are a great way to show your pleasure by combining it with praise for being or doing.
  • Be careful not to consistently combine praise for being and praise for doing. When both types of praise are combined, children may learn that you only love or appreciate them when they do something.

This posting is from the Fairfax County Department of Family Services (DFS) Community Corner where you’ll find timely information about upcoming events, parenting and wellness tips, programs and services, and more! The DFS Parenting Education Programs is now enrolling for its classes. Join them for more information about positive and effective ways parents can interact with their children at every age and stage of development. They would love to hear from you. If you have questions or feedback about the topic in this article, send an email to DFSinfo@fairfaxcounty.gov.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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