Empty Praise and How to Avoid It

by denny hagel on February 10, 2013

Graphic Healthy vs harmful praiseEmpty praise is fast becoming the latest hot topic among parents. And of course there are strong opinions on both sides.

Some believe there is no such thing as empty or harmful praise. Others feel a child will be better served with no praise at all rather than the kind of praise they believe to be harmful.

The intention of praise is to raise your child’s self-confidence, self-esteem and self-image. Praising your child is done to make them feel special and appreciated. For every parent I know it is also a way to express their love.

So what could be harmful about any of that?

In parenting mindsets of past generations the belief was that if you were not number ‘one’, did not get an ‘A’ or did not receive the gold medal meant you lost. Period. Nothing else mattered except the win. And when you did not win there was no call for praise. In this way of thinking the best thing you could do for your child was to motivate them to strive to be THE BEST and accept nothing less.

What many of today's parents now understand is that focusing only on the win or to be the best actually works in reverse. In fact, statistics show that children who are taught that to not win means you failed quickly lose their motivation to try and in some cases interest.

In response to this revelation parents are taking a different approach.   

We first need to understand that the most important element in our relationship with our children is trust. A mutual trust in fact. In order to grow and establish a trusting relationship we cannot ignore the basic necessary ingredient. Honesty. To gain our child’s trust it is imperative that we are always honest with them.

And so a child who is exposed to a mindset that says success equals being number '1' does not receive top place, and your response to him is “Great job!” it will not ring true in his mind. Not only will he be feeling he didn’t do a great job but he will quickly equate your response with the fact that you are his parents and you love him. In a child's mind this feels like 'empty' praise.

volleyball silouetteJust recently Kaitlyn had a friend over who was struggling with the fact that she didn’t make the school volleyball team. She was really coming down on herself. I asked her what her Mom had said and she replied, “She said I was really good and she thought I should have made the team.” And then she added, “But she’s my Mom, she is supposed to say that!”

That is a prime example of how children will learn to dismiss what parents say to their children and when praise can in fact be harmful.

As parents we want to encourage and support our children, we want to be there for them in their corner. But we also want to help our children strive to be the best they can be and that won’t happen when we shower them with empty praise.

As parents we must inspire and motivate our children to reach for their personal best. The second thing we can do is to be honest when situations occur like the one with Kaitlyn’s friend.

In that situation Kaitlyn’s friend’s Mom could have comforted her daughter in her disappointment for not making the team, sharing how proud she was of her daughter for trying her best. But to keep it honest and real pointed out that in order to play on the team every player is required to be able to serve 3 out 4 attempts making it over the net and that although she was very strong in her defensive skills her serves needed some work.

In that way, she was praising with honesty by mentioning her strong points but not ignoring the reason she was not placed on the team. An alert parent will find and point out areas in which praise is warranted and focus on that rather than the outcome…at the same time encouraging your child to place their efforts on areas that need improving in order to obtain their goal.

Responding in a truthful way builds credibility for your opinions and furthers the level of trust and honesty in your relationship. Praise that is unfounded is harmful, regardless of your good intention, however, praising for their efforts is always in order!


Denny Hagel is a child advocate and parent coach, devoting over 25 years to the success and well being of all children. She is the published author of over 150 articles on parenting, several of which have attracted international attention.

Denny was blessed with forward thinking parents who raised her with an understanding of her value as an individual, her innate power to choose by way of her thoughts, ideas, opinions and beliefs, thus, instilling in her a strong sense of personal responsibility for what happens in our lives

She is the founder of Awakened Parenting LLC, a company dedicated to helping parents release parenting paradigms of the past and consciously choose to raise their children to approach life with a positive mindset and strong sense of self. It is Denny’s passion to combine what she learned through her formal education in early childhood education and psychology and what her parents instilled in her and pass this on to all parents.

Denny has created the discussion group "Awakened Parenting Discussion Forum" on Face Book which now has nearly 600 members.  She does on line coaching with parents and teachers who consult her on a regular basis. Denny collaborates with counselors, authors, coaches and others working in the parent coaching field. Denny Hagel is the author of the newly published "The C.P.R. Program for Parents & Teens: Conflict Prevention/Resolution Formula", "Mini-Me Syndrome" and two free e-booklets Parenting Using the Law of Attraction and Becoming an Awakened Parent".

  • Pamela Murray

    Great Article Denny! Children are a gift! If am a big fan of praising effort!

  • Pamela Murray

    Typo, I am a big fan of praising effort! :) lol

  • Carele Belanger

    Thank you Denny for your great article. I always say that children are miracles of life.

  • Aimee

    A great way to praise I just heard goes something like that “You know I wouldn’t love you anymore if you had made the team, right? I love you exactly how you are.” and then, ” And I also completely understand why you are bummed. That’s okay too, I would be too. But what makes me proud is that you had enough self-esteem and belief to take the risk of trying something when you knew it might not work out. That takes real guts.” I love how it continually points to doing things for your own self-actualization.

  • http://twitter.com/alexandrawow101 Alexandra McAllister

    Oh, Denny, children are miracles and should be treated as such. Love your article. Bless you. I know you are helping parents with your articles.

  • Meire Weishaupt

    Thank you so much for the article, I agree with you that “trust” is everything in the relationship with the kids!

  • Dawn Lanier

    Loved the recommendation to celebrate your child’s personal best (whatever that is). That’s the best way to build their self esteem. Great post Denny.

  • jean

    Thank you Denny for another great article. I agree trust is the most important part and praising for the efforts maintins that relationship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzanne.jonesimpens Suzanne Jones Impens

    “An alert parent will find and point out areas in which praise is warranted” This is important. Pointing out what a great serve she has and how she is able to position it is specific enough to show the child it isn’t a generic statement.

  • lori

    Love your article! You are so right that the most important thing we have is trust with our children so we shouldn’t be showering them with empty praises. We aren’t doing them any favors. Thanks Denny!

  • http://twitter.com/Livvie_Matthews Livvie Matthews

    What a powerful article, Suzanne and so true about what our children will say in response to our praise. My daughter’s favorite comment to “How do I look” is “Mom you would tell me I look good even if I were a one-eye cyclops!!”. Honesty in a positive way is always best. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • http://assistsocialmedia.com/ elizabeth Maness

    Awesome Article Denny! If we just give it out when it’s not deserved why will they reach and why should they trust us?

  • Lorii Abela

    This is a different
    approach Denny and I love it. I always
    learn something new when I visit your post. Thank you :)

  • http://CarlaJGardiner.com/ Carla J Gardiner

    It’s ironic how from an early age we begin to beat ourselves up. As a parent and now grandparent I’ve always praised the kids for what they are able to do as long as they give it 100% of what “they” have. Each of them are different and it’s not easy when siblings compare themselves to each other. Good points were brought out here Denny, thanks for clarifying this…hope more parents and grandparents pay attention and use this.

  • http://twitter.com/Keys2BSocial Shirley Wilson

    Praising for the effort – I like that! Thanks Denny!

  • http://www.facebook.com/julie.mcadoo Julie McAdoo

    So true, Denny. And praising while still acknowledging the areas that the child needs to improve actually helps the child to improve! I am so thankful to learn your lessons while my children are still young!

  • http://twitter.com/AskPamelaGail Pamela Gail Johnson

    Knowing how and when to praise your child is an ongoing learning process.

  • Katie-Anne

    Denny, you are spot on with this topic, and it isn’t just an issue for parents. My 9 year old plays ice hockey and a few weeks ago I wasn’t able to attend one of his training sessions and afterwards I asked him how it went. He said it went good. So I asked if his trainer had said anything, and he replied that his trainer had said the team had trained good. When I responded that it must have been good if the trainer said so, I was rewarded with an eye-roll and ‘that’s what he always says, it doesn’t mean anything.’ That comment made me realize that kids are more perceptive than we think and I have to be more aware of the words I choose when I do give him praise because I want him to know that from me at least, it does mean something.

  • Naomi Richards

    I am not keen on empty praise Denny. I think it adds no value to the child. I like specifics and reasons.

  • http://www.el3mentsofwellness.com/ Carl Mason-Liebenberg

    I agree…finidng points to praise and still facing the needs for change is such a beneficial collaboration!

  • http://www.facebook.com/anita.fiander Anita Fiander

    Hot conversation topic for sure. I have 3 children, 25,23 and 10. My parenting style was different as I grew and evolved. One thing that remained consistent was being ‘real’ with my children. I don’t like to be given empty praise..why would I do that to my kids?

  • http://twitter.com/socialwithsara Sara Nickleberry

    “Responding in a truthful way builds credibility for your opinions and furthers the level of trust and honesty in your relationship.” This is true in all relationships! Thanks once again for your wonderful insight Denny.

  • http://twitter.com/NormaDoiron Norma Doiron ´*•჻.

    Wow! Am I glad that my children are all married… it seems so complicated these days. When I was raising my kids, they earned their praise and the benefits. The result is 3 well-adjusted kids that are responsible, work hard and function well in society. There are so many these days that live off their parents, are lazy and immature…. wonder if that empty praise has anything to do with it. Great post!

  • http://www.mikemcdonaldfitness.com/ Mike McDonald

    Great post. I remember when I was a kid feeling a lot like that. Empty praise really does nobody any good.

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  • http://www.helenabowers.com/ Helena Bowers

    Definitely a fine balancing act for parents when it comes to praising children, especially for children who play sports. As a parent you always think your child should’ve made the team but telling them so doesn’t do anything to help them get better at their sport.

  • Vicky

    Great article Denny. I agree… “inspire and motivate our children to reach their personal best.”

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