The ultimate list of things to avoid when complimenting your kids and what to do instead.
My 4-year-old daughter slipped into the shimmering dress-up gown and twirled. “I’m beautiful! Mom, am I beautiful?” she asked.
“You are so beautiful!” I affirmed, smiling as she danced around the room. She received compliments all day long about how wonderful she looked, and I couldn’t peel the dress off of her when it was time for bed. I didn’t push it.
The next morning was another story. We had a playdate to go to. She needed new clothes.
I pulled out jeggings and a t-shirt, for comfort and ease-of-tumbling. But as soon as my daughter put them on, she panicked. “I can’t wear these, Mom! I’m not beautiful.”
“I need to wear a dress so I can be beautiful,” she added.
I didn’t understand
I want my daughter to have a good self-image and good self-esteem. I tell her she’s beautiful all the time. A zillion people told her she was beautiful just yesterday! We tried to make her feel good about herself, and instead, she felt worse.
She felt less beautiful.
Why did this happen?
When my daughter picked a fancy dress or a special hair-do, everyone she saw told her she was beautiful. Not that the dress was so sparkly or her braids were so cute. But that she was beautiful.
Seems like a good thing to say. But it taught her to think that it was the dress that made her beautiful.
We were complimenting her the wrong way.
Our compliments didn’t boost her self-image. They made her outfit the measure of her worth. We harmed her self-esteem with our praise.
Compliments are surprisingly tricky! Complimenting is an art. Just like every other type of art, there are rules and guidelines to follow if you want the outcome to be beautiful.
Want to boost your kids’ self-esteem instead of hurt it? These 6 tips and examples (with a printable!) teach you how to compliment your kids the right way.
1. Don’t label
“You’re a good girl,” or “You are so smart.”
This can make them feel the opposite when they’re not complimented. Especially if you only label them this way after a certain action. If they don’t do a good job next time, they might feel bad or dumb.
Instead: Talk about the action.
“That was very kind of you to give your brother a turn.”
She knows exactly what action is being complimented. And she won’t think she’s being bad when she doesn’t give him another turn in 5 seconds.
2. Don’t compare
“You’re the best dancer,” or “Your dancing is so much better than Ashley’s.”
This teaches your kids to judge themselves in comparison to others. Her singing will never be good enough unless it’s better than other peoples’.
Instead: Focus on the person you’re complimenting.
“Those crazy dance moves are awesome!”
Your kids don’t have to be better than other people to be complimented. Their actions can be complimented no matter how everyone else does.
3. Don’t be general
“That singing was nice.”
Generalized compliments don’t sound genuine. Your child doesn’t know what you liked about his singing. Heck, you might not even know…which is probably why you’re not being specific.
Instead: Be specific
“I loved all the feeling and emphasis you put into that song.”
Now that you gave a specific reason, your child is much more likely to believe you. And you’ll be more intentional about your compliments, because you’re giving them for a real reason!
4. Don’t overpraise… especially when they didn’t do well and they know it
“You don’t like your painting? That’s ok! I love it! It’s amazing and wonderful. And gorgeous!”
You’re trying to be supportive, but you’re dismissing your child’s opinion like it doesn’t matter.
Instead: Pick a specific thing to compliment that they did well
“I’m sorry you don’t like your painting. The purple in the trees looks so bold!”
You acknowledge your child’s feelings and point out the positive for her to notice as well.
5. Don’t focus on performance
“You’re so good at doing squats!”
That’s great that he’s good at it, but your child shouldn’t just value the outcome. The outcome may not always be perfect, but the effort is what counts. They should value the work they put into it.
Instead: Compliment the effort
“I love how you kept going even when you felt so tired!”
Now your child knows that you realize how hard the task was and how hard he worked. Even though his squats may not have been perfect, he persevered and that’s what you appreciate the most!
6. Don’t use a compliment as a conversation ender
“Great job!” Now I complimented her, so I can look back at my phone…
A halfhearted compliment to end the conversation and “do your part” doesn’t count as a compliment. You’re being lazy and your child knows it. She knows when you’re not paying attention. Even though you said the compliment, it wasn’t real, so it didn’t make its way to your child’s heart.
Instead: Use compliments as conversation starters
“Wow! Look at that painting! Did you learn any cool new techniques to use on it?”
Start with a positive comment and open it up for your child to continue. Show your interest after your compliment and she will believe it.
Let’s Make our Kids Feel Beautiful
Next time my daughter slips into a sparkly dress, I’m going to resist the temptation to just blurt out “You’re so beautiful.” Instead I’m going to be more intentional about my compliments.
“Those sparkles are shining off your hair so nicely,” or “I love how that color looks with your beautiful blue eyes,” will build her up in specific ways.
But even more importantly, I will make sure to compliment her when she wears her jeans or her sweatpants. I will tell her how much I value her kind actions. Her persistence and her effort. Her caring and her generosity.
We need to compliment our kids in ways that will help them see both their inner and outer beauty, so that they will value themselves no matter what other people say.
Need help remembering these tips? Print this printable and hang it up to start giving awesome compliments right away!