There are two sides to every coin. Praising your kids is no exception.

On one hand, there's a body of evidence that supports the theory that praising your children is good. Studies have found that it helps to motivate, build self confidence and develop social skills.

Yet other data points to negative effects of praising your kids, leading to lower levels of motivation, lower performance and shying away from challenges.

So what's a parent to do with these contradictory findings? A new study from South Korean researchers reveals some answers. The focus of their work was to study how to best praise kids for academic performance. After measuring the praise kids received, the researchers collected data on the kids' success at school and their levels of depression. The research was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The researchers surveyed over 300 kids and their parents. They asked the kids to rate how often their parents over-praised or under-praised for their homework, test scores and grades. Kids were also surveyed for depression symptoms. The parents were asked similar questions about how they praised their children and reported their children's academic performance.

In short, the results didn't necessarily identify a clear winner between over-praising or under-praising. The research found praising your kids is good -- but with a caveat. The how and when you praise your kids matters hugely.

Researchers found the following types of praise produced the least favorable results. (For the purposes of this study, that included GPA and depression level.)

  • Parents who don't praise or under-praise their kids
  • Parents who use praise as motivation to get kids to perform
  • Parents who give praise that doesn't match the accomplishment or task at hand

Kids did best when parents gave them praise they had truly earned. The study's authors said praise "perceived to be based on actual performance yields the most desirable outcomes for children."

In other words, it's not that praise is inherently bad. It's that you need to praise the right thing, the praise has to be accurate, and it has to be warranted. You can't fake it or overstate it. Give credit when credit is due. Not when it's not.

Here's how the researchers summed it all up:

We demonstrated that when parents perceived that they over- or underpraised their children for schoolwork, children performed worse in school and experienced depression to a greater extent, as compared with children whose parents thought their praise accurately reflected reality.

While parents want to help their kids build a strong sense of self, it's important to avoid giving them an inflated sense of self-esteem. The study's authors identified a good warning sign. Pay attention to how you feel when you give praise. If you feel uneasy or something feels off, take note. You might be in the middle of giving the bad kind of praise.

Published on: Jan 5, 2017