Compliments May Actually Hurt Children, Psychologist Warns

Psychologists have warned that parents who lavish their kids with too many compliments could risk harming their children's self-confidence and future performance in school.

A leading psychologist has warned that praising children with comments like "well done darling" could hurt their confidence.

Mental health expert Stephen Grosz claims that other praises like "you're so clever" or "you're such an artist" could also hamper their future performance in school.

Grosz said that "empty praises" could make children unhappy because they feel they cannot live up to the false expectations.

He suggests that parents and teachers should instead be less generous with compliments and use phrases that praise children for "trying really hard".

"Empty praise is as bad as thoughtless criticism - it expresses indifference to the child's feelings and thoughts," Grosz, who has been a psychoanalyst for 25 years, told the Daily Mail.

"Admiring our children may temporarily lift our sense of self-esteem but it isn't doing much for a child's sense of self," he said.

Grosz said that past research found that children who were frequently praised were actually more likely to perform worse in school.

Researchers from Columbia University asked 128 students between the ages of ten and 11 to solve a few math problems.

After the children completed the tasks, one group of kids was told the phrase "You did really well - you're so clever" and the other was told "You did really well - you must have tried really hard."

Afterwards, researchers gave both groups more difficult questions. Researchers found that those who had been told that they were "clever" scored significantly lower than those who were told that they "must have tried really hard".

Furthermore, researchers found that those who were told that they were "clever" even tried to lie about their results when asked about their test scores.

Grosz, who has written a book on human behavior The Examined Life, which includes a chapter titled How Praise Can Cause Loss Of Confidence, says that when picking up his daughter from day care in London he hears an assistant tell her: "You've drawn the most beautiful tree. Well done."

He said that afterwards after she drew another picture, and the same assistant said: "Wow, you really are an artist."

"My heart sank," Grosz writes in his book.

"How could I explain to the nursery assistant that I would prefer it if she didn't praise my daughter?" he wrote.

"If you go to the local nursery you'll hear this kind of stuff sometimes mixed in with teaching: 'Oh, your drawing looks so like a Miro, darling'," he wrote.

"And so you get this mix of praise and teaching. I find it, to be blunt, aggressive," he explained. "Because it's saying: I don't want to engage with you as a person; I want to just praise you."

The psychoanalyst believes that because many adults were heavily criticized when they were children, they are now anxious to show that they are different. He suggested that instead of over-praising children, parents should try to build their children's confidence more subtly.

"Just listen to what your child wants to tell you, about what they're interested in and what they're passionate about," Grosz said.

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