The Cost of Overpraising Kids

Recently I noticed that I’ve been overpraising my kids.

How do I know that? “Good job” started to feel rote and lifeless. It’s a sleepy habit I fell into…

On the other hand, when I’m really present and paying attention, my kids need little to no praise.  For example, now with my nearly 5 year-old son I’ve been experimenting with not saying anything after he does something awesome. I just attend to him with my full presence and make it known that I’m noticing him. It’s amazing what happens. His victories are self-evident and when he masters a challenge, gets something new, or is proud of himself, something clicks and his eyes and face show his own “ah ha!” and pride. He glows and smiles. He’s inspired. He’s engaged. Nothing extra is needed except my witnessing and presence that demonstrates “I see you.” And, I see him.

So, instead of telling him the default comment of “good job” which kids hear over and over and over and teaches him, over time, to perform like a sheep, I notice his reaction to his own success and I reflect that instead. “you did that!” “you’re so psyched on yourself right now!” “wow, check out your face, you’re glowing having done that!” Sure, I still praise. But I’m going for 20/80. Praise vs acknowledgment. Praise less, acknowledge and ‘encourage’ more.

“Encouragement shows faith in children and fosters self-esteem, self-motivation, confidence, and creativity in children by focusing on effort, improvement, and contributions. On the other hand, praise limits children’s creativity, self-confidence, and self-motivation by teaching them to depend on others’ views and opinions to determine their own self worth.” —Dr. Garry Landreth

Why do I care?

Overpraising kids is breeding ground for serfdom. Telling kids they are awesome all the time leads to entitled, disempowered adults. Overpraising kids perpetuates disconnection from heart, body, & soul. And, when we disconnect from the true, fundamental nature of who we are, a high price is paid…

Kids are vulnerable.

They begin to rely on external praise versus intrinsic enthusiasm. They look outside instead of trusting the fuzzy feeling inside. They lose touch with the magic of intuitive learning. They look for us parents to grade their acts. They look for the “atta boys” and good jobs to determine if they are doing it right and if they’re overpraising kidsokay. Then they go to school only to have it further drilled in their flexible brains. And in school, you are your performance. Boys are especially susceptible to performance bait. Perform and play the game well and get rewarded. Be a clone and a drone. Don’t be in your body, memorize useless information instead. Over time this leads to disembodied robots who are addicted to external validation and approval. This also perpetuates the void where kids slowly learn (or remember), that who they are isn’t good enough. The “good boy, good girl” mentality fits in nicely on top of a previous core wound of inadequacy, unworthiness, and unlovability. And, since kids fear being left behind (abandonment/rejection spectrum), they make it a higher priority to betray themselves by following the pack, rather than being themselves and trusting themselves.

Many kids now believe nonsense like “more” is “better,” “external is more important than internal, and so on. So, as they grow they become prey who are vulnerable to climbing latters and buying useless products and services that tell them to be something other than who they are. These kids eventually become “good” adult consumers because they buy shit to make them feel better because they feel numb inside. They conform. And they’re so checked out they don’t know they’ve fallen prey to the whole thing. This common process of maturation/castration leads to approval addicts and eventually domesticated servants of the matrix. It’s zombie training 101.

Um, where was I? Oh yeah…

We parents can skip participating in this slippery slope by demonstrating our presence and love. So, will I never praise my kids? Of course not. It’s hard-wired in my brain to praise others, I just want to cut wayyyyy back and listen and stay awake to the cost either way. I prefer acknowledgement/encouragement. As for my son? When I simply smile at him and feel my love for him, he sees that, feels it, and takes it in and continues to trust himself. 

my son stoked about marshmallows roasted via a wood burning stove

my son stoked about marshmallows roasted via a wood burning stove



  • Martin MS

    Reply Reply December 16, 2013

    Thanks Jayson, another important reminder. I didn’t get a lot of praise as a kid and I also tend to overdo it with my kids – and boy, it’s really difficult not to …
    Thanks for your blogging, it’s good to know like-minded people are working out there.

  • Elizabeth

    Reply Reply December 16, 2013

    This is so mind-blowing, THANK YOU!

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