The House Dad Chronicles: Why I Can't Bring Myself To Praise My Children

14/08/2014 16:47 | Updated 22 May 2015
The House Dad Chronicles: Why I can't bring myself to praise my children

The other day, I was in the playground with my kids, reading the paper, minding my own business, when a voice of such screeching intensity pierced through the usual cacophony of children enjoying themselves.

It was distinctly male. Distinctly American. And totally and ludicrously over the top. Not just for its volume, but for what it was conveying. Praise. Massive, hyperbolic, hysterical praise – because this loud father's three year-old son had slid down a slide.

Yes, his child had manipulated the force of gravity to his own devices to go from Point A at the top of the frictionless play equipment in a downward trajectory to Point B.

Isaac Newton would have been proud – but nowhere near as proud as this boy's father.

"Way. To. Go, Son," he yelled. 'WAAAAAAAAY TO GO. WOO-HOOOOOOOOO!"

It makes you wonder how he might react if his son built a rocket to the stars.


I can't relate to this over-praising of the mundane and totally unremarkable 'achievements'.


Fair enough, if a child goes the extra mile, give him or her a Swizzles lolly. But other than that, everything is just 'Meh!'

The other day, for example, my eight-year-old son had a test of his times tables. He got 49 out of 50. When he showed me the paper, there was a comment on it from his teacher – a disappointed comment.

"Oh, Tom," she wrote. "I KNOW you can do better than this."

And I couldn't agree more. He got one wrong; praise withheld. No lolly for Tom.


This is a parenting style I have inherited from my own father. I would skip home from school clutching an A-grade and he would respond with the question: "Why isn't it an A-plus?" In other words: I know you're capable of better.


Tell that to the dad and his sliding son? How could that child impress his dad any more than he already does? Even a somersault and a triple salco couldn't elicit more praise.

Another time, a couple of years ago, I remember watching my then seven-year-old stepdaughter in her school play.

As the act came to an end, a mother emerged from the clapping audience with a gigantic bouquet of flowers which she handed to her own embarrassed offspring with the words: "You were A-MAAAAAA-ZING, darling."

Her little girl had been lurking in the shadows at the back of the main attraction, without so much as a single-word speaking part.

Am I missing a trick here? Are these parents, with their effervescent over-effusive praising of the ordinary actually doing their spawn a favour in the long run? After all, I imagine they will grow up with bags of 'I-can-do-no-wrong' confidence and will surely stamp over everyone on their route to success on the basis that they are entitled to power and fortune because that's what Mummy and Daddy brought them up to believe?

But that's not what the experts say. According to a book called NurtureShock, parents who praise their children too much could actually hinder their development because it demotivates them.

This could be because children resent being praised for just completing a simple task.

Unnecessary praise may also make youngsters unaware of how hard they actually need to work for real achievement. Well go figure!

Authors Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson say for compliments to work they have to be limited, sincere and about effort rather than achievement.

Their analysis of 150 studies at Stanford University, in California, found that students who are over-praised become risk-averse, make less effort and are less self motivated.

Even young children are vulnerable to the inverse power of praise - and bright girls especially so.

Studies by Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, have shown that telling a child they are bright causes under-performance.

In one study of 400 nine-year-olds, telling them the six words 'you must be smart at this' before a test reduced their scores by 20 per cent.

Po Bronson said: "Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting."

Added to this, British academics claim that education is being undermined by the 'all must have prizes' regime and overpraising in schools.

A recent report claimed that rewards systems in schools - which provide stickers, sweets and even shopping vouchers for good work or behaviour - kills off children's enthusiasm for learning because kids think they are being bribed.

Simon Brownhill, a senor lecturer in education at Derby University, said: "A prize should be something you can work towards. When I was learning to swim I got a certificate for five metres, one for ten metres and so on.

"Whilst I am all for rewarding achievement, it has to genuinely recognise progress. A prize or certificate for nothing devalues the concept of a reward."

Personally, I find it very difficult to praise my kids at all, let alone over-praise them. My dad believed that hard graft and endeavour were their own rewards and that anyone could and should do better. And this is how it will be for my children.

They don't have a money mattress from their rich parents to fall back on: the only way they will succeed is through sheer hard work. When they make their first million THEN I will praise them.

Which makes me wonder how the Dad And The Incredible Sliding Child will react if his offspring achieves anything more earned that succumbing to gravity.

Or how he will cope if his son achieves sod all because he grew up believing that you don't have to try to win a standing ovation.

What do you think?

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