The following came in a Boston.com readers' Q&A this week with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz:
Question:We have one child who is 6 years old. We will not be having any more due to medical issues. Obviously she is our world. We are wondering, is there such a thing as praising your child too much? We always want her to know how proud we are and since it is just her and us, we spend a lot of time together. I just wonder if we are doing more harm than good. Any thoughts??
Barbara Meltz: Hi Willjamill. I have lots of thoughts on this (my husband and I have only one child) and apparently lots of other people do, too, whether they have first-hand experience or not. This subject came up in the last chat, got posted on the blog, and generated a lot of response, some of it less than accurate.
The short answer to your question is that yes, you can overdo praise. The so-called self-esteem movement of the '90's showed that that's a trap. One tip: be clear that the child is not the sum of her behavior: in other words, "What a good job you did!", Not: "What a good girl you are!"
Another: be realistic. Every drawing she makes is not a masterpiece. She knows it as well as you do. When you overpraise for what she knows is acceptable but not great, what she learns is to not be able to trust your judgement.
A third tip: when you have a reason to offer praise, find something specific to comment on. "I like the colors you used in this drawing. Tell me about them." And one other thought: You mention that you spend lots of time together. That's generally a good thing. Except when it's not. I don't mean to be cryptic. All children want their parents' attention. When there are only three people in a family, attention can sometimes feel like scrutiny. It doesn't take both parents to look over the spelling homework. These are fine distinctions to draw and it takes some time to figure them out. Check out this column that I wrote.
Agree with Barbara here? Have some thoughts of your own? Let us know in our comments section below. Also, check out these previous Child Caring posts: