How To Give Children Proper Praise

A mother cheering on her young toddler

Using the proper praise is essential for encouragement to be effective with children.

Parents and teachers frequently use words of encouragement when talking to children, as positive language is important while addressing them. Praise from an adult can teach a young child to repeat the action that earned the praise. When appropriately used, praise can have a profoundly good effect on children.  

Phrases such as “well done” or “good job” are popular responses to success—but the motivational effects are not guaranteed. Careless application may even make things worse for a child.  

It is beneficial for kids to hear the right words of encouragement because they improve confidence, boost optimism and enhance perseverance. It’s helpful to know what proper praise for children is and how we can provide effective praise. 

What is praise? 

Praise is expressing approval for a child’s actions or demeanour. Praise does not include criticism. A phrase such as “good job for not complaining” is not proper praise. Telling a child that you like what they’re doing or how they’re acting is giving them praise. 

A child’s confidence and sense of self will grow when you praise them. When you compliment a child, you’re modelling healthy self-talk for them. It also teaches the child to notice when they’ve done something good and to be proud of themselves. 

What to avoid 

Negative attention 

In a room of children, the misbehaving child will most likely get the most attention. However, we should avoid calling them out by telling them to stop running around, jumping or whatnot. Instead, try to motivate the misbehaving child to follow the actions of behaving children by praising good behaviour. Simply point out what you want to see rather than calling out behaviour you want to stop. 

You can say to a behaving child, “I see you’re packing away quietly on your own. Well done!” Children will do things that get attention and might just do what you praised another child for.  

Conditional praise 

Conditional praise or praise dependent on a desired outcome or level of performance teaches kids to value themselves based on the condition. Children who receive conditional or controlling praise are less likely to be intrinsically motivated. Studies show that they also have lower levels of positive self-esteem and are less likely to try new things for fear of failure. Instead of saying, “You did well! I’m sure you can even do better next time”, simply point out what they did well. 

Comparison praise 

Comparison praise teaches kids that the goal is to be the best in a competition, not to get better at something. Also, children who are constantly praised based on how they compare to others tend to grow up to be sore losers. They lack intrinsic motivation when they decide that the goal is to outperform other kids. So, we should praise children in comparison only to themselves or for their mastery of a task. Say things like, “You ran faster than you did yesterday.” 


Studies have shown that excessive praise does nothing to inspire children to work hard. They may feel pressured to live up to unrealistically high expectations, making them less likely to try new things. Avoid saying praise like, “You’re the best! That was so perfect. You’re a genius!” Also, don’t praise kids too much for things that are easy for them to do or for doing things they already enjoy doing. The risk of praising a child too often is that they might think they’ve done something wrong if they don’t get praise. 

What to do 

Give sincere and honest praise 

Match your praise to the behaviour because children can tell when you’re not being honest. Children don’t believe words of praise when they think how they’ve acted goes against the praise they’ve received. Insincere praise doesn’t work and can also be harmful, as children won’t feel like they’re being encouraged. Children may start to criticise themselves because they think that parents or teachers are either feeling sorry for them or trying to manipulate them. So, instead of saying, “You’re the smartest kid,” offer more realistic praise, like, “You did a great job finishing your homework.” 

Make specific praise 

Noticing little things shows that you have been paying attention and that you care. Use words that are descriptive and specific. The more specific and unique the encouragement, the more likely it will be seen as authentic and genuine. For example, it’s more effective to point out a particular part of a child’s actions or explain what they did that led to good results. You can use phrases such as, “You’re getting much better at holding the ball between bounces.”  

Praise the effort 

A child will be more likely to try hard in future if you praise their effort, not the outcome. It can also motivate them to see the results of their hard work. Don’t wait until they’ve mastered something before praising them. Instead, look for small changes or adjustments to comment on.  

Saying something like, “I love the strokes you made and the colours you chose for your painting!” is better than “I love your painting!” 

Be spontaneous 

Always look for ways to give children meaningful compliments. Focus on giving them praise more often than you criticise them. Praising a child’s positive behaviour is a more effective means of discouraging misbehaviour. Over time, even seemingly insignificant comments can significantly affect a child. 

Benefits of proper praise 

Proper praise encourages and guides children to change their behaviour, be more confident and even do something they haven’t done before. It can promote cooperation and make children better at sharing, taking turns, using kind words and interacting with others. You can motivate children to do something or to behave in a certain way by giving them proper praise. Using the right words of encouragement also helps with following rules and directions.  

Praise also boosts a child’s confidence. It helps them stay positive and motivated amidst challenges. Motivating a child to keep trying can encourage them to work hard and persevere. Children will be willing to put more effort into something and be more patient when they get praise for their efforts. 

It is always good to appreciate a child’s achievements and help them feel enthusiastic about their own passions. Parents, teachers and other adults around children should all try to search for the positive and give praise to children every day. Simple, well-chosen words can benefit children greatly and set them up with the confidence boost they need for the future.  

If you’ve given praise that isn’t aligned with the guidelines above, don’t worry about it! It’s never too late to start giving children proper praise. You can use these tips to guide you in future exchanges with children.

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Zeus Martinez

Marketing Content Specialist

Wordsmith and storyteller at heart. Writing professionally since 2005. Living and breathing in the childcare education sector as a marketing copywriter for Discover by Xplor.

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