Why Not so Good?:
"good girl", "clever boy", "you’re so talented" and the
These are typical examples of evaluative praise. They are
expressions of opinion, presented as if they where facts. Unfortunately
they don’t motivate well and don’t empower kids or build self
They are not very precise. What does a "good girl" stand
for? Being quiet? Helping out? Not dropping something? Your child
wouldn’t know what behaviour to repeat in order to stay a "good girl".
They are judgemental. Your daughter might not think she’s
talented. She might know other kids that can run faster, jump higher or
throw the ball further. So your well intended “you’re so talented”
could make her think more along the lines: “I’m not talented at all.
What does mum know?” Tearing on motivation, self confidence and your
They can stop your child from even trying new or
challenging things. Why?
To praise kids for smartness, cleverness or talent often neglects the
effort it takes to get there. They appear to be character traits. In
order to retain the status of the “clever boy” for example, kids often
stop doing things that could make them appear less clever.
The Better Way
In order to praise kids descriptively you need to know what
exactly you like about your child’s behaviour or achievement. That will
take some more effort at first, but the good thing is, over time it
will turn into a habit and you’ll notice more things your kids are
actually good at. At the same time you’re a positive role model and
your kids start finding good things not only about themselves, but
about you as well. You might get thanked for making dinner or helping
out much more often.
How to praise kids descriptively?
Actively look for things that are done right and stick to
(“Wow, look how clean your teeth are now. You really made sure you
reached every single one – even those all the way in the back.”)
Praise effort and little improvements and achievements
just as well. It might be too long to wait for the big milestones.
If you give your opinion, make sure you make clear that
it’s your opinion.
(“I like the way you drew this princess. You added some important
detail like the crown, and the golden ball and the little frog with the
crown. I can tell she’s the frog princess. I think you’re very
Don’t praise things that are too trivial. So if your
daughter has drawn hundreds of frog princesses already or your son is
used to brush his teeth very thoroughly every night, don’t praise that
as if it was for the first time. Keep an eye open to how your kids
react to your praise to see if that’s the case.
A good time to incorporate descriptive praise into the day
is just before bed. You both can reflect what you liked about the day
and be thankful for it. This way you child falls asleep feeling good
about himself and you might get some ideas for activities you could do
Be cautious about praise followed by “BUT” and something
that needs improvement. No matter how many good things you praise
first, it’s the critique after the “but” that is usually remembered. In
this case everything else is forgotten really quickly as the mind
regards it as “not so important” or “can’t be that true”.
Praising your kids like that might seem unnatural to you at first. Of
course it does. We’re not used to describe things that go well. Things
that go wrong are far more obvious. One way to get a better feeling for
descriptive praise is to put it in the context of genuine appreciation.
Showing Appreciation More Generally
Genuine appreciation involves honouring your kids for what
they are and where they are at. It involves being aware of how unique
and wonderful they are. It’s recognition of their self without
Showing appreciation is easier in the form of gratitude. To
praise your kids is one way of doing that. You can also do that by
showing recognition like a little thank you’s or humility.
Another way of showing appreciation is through respect which
involves your care, concern, fair treatment and courtesy. This opens up
a whole array of ways you can show your children that they are special
and you love them: