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Tips for Helping Kids Feel Proud (When They Don’t Like Praise)

Welcome to Tea & Tips, where we respond to burning questions from parents and educators — taking aim on one topic at a time, guiding you to improve communication, confidence and calm.

Many kids with complex challenges resist getting positive feedback from their parents. It’s strange, because they get so much negative feedback that you’d think they’d be all over it. But truly, it’s quite common for complex kids to feel embarrassed or ashamed. They don’t want you to make a big deal about things. So how do you build their confidence and help them feel proud of themselves? Diane and Elaine have a few simple thoughts.

Elaine: One of the issues we hear a lot from parents is frustration because their kids don't take praise well. Parents want to acknowledge them for something they're doing well, and the kid doesn't want to hear it. And so parents really want to be able to boost their confidence, but the kid is kind of resistant.

Diane: And a lot of times what happens is these kids do get a little self-conscious, so they feel beat up. And so as parents we naturally want to boost them and get their ego's up. And so part of it is modeling that, because I think as adults, sometimes we do the same thing. It's like, "Oh no, it's nothing, it's not a big deal." We kind of dismiss praise when it comes to us as well.

Elaine: Yeah. So, really modeling that and celebrating, right? Celebrating when things go well. Celebrating what we do well.

Diane: Celebrating what they do well, and doing it in a way that they can hear it. So, sometimes people like verbal praise. Sometimes it's a high five. Sometimes it's a, "Hey, let's go out for ice cream." But part of it is about finding ways that your kids can comfortably hear and accept praise, rather than having it be the same way all the time.

Elaine: Well, and it's got to be authentic, right? It's got to come from a real feeling of, "Wow, this is exciting," instead of a sense, "I want to make sure I'm boosting your confidence." We want to do it really authentically.

Diane: And pat of it is about it being external praise. So, if you can get them to the point where they're praising themselves and using words like, "You must be really proud of yourself," instead of, "I'm proud of you," it feels really different to a kid.

Elaine: One of my kids really struggled with this issue, and I remember having a conversation where she said to me, "But I was taught not to be prideful." Right. And so to make that distinction between prideful and it's okay to be proud of yourself. That's a leap for some of them. And so to really help her say, "I bet you're really proud of yourself," was way more important than me saying, "I'm proud of you."

Diane: Right, so there's two pieces. One is the kid maybe beating himself up internally. And so you want to model celebration. And then the other is that they may be feeling like they shouldn't be boastful.

Elaine: Right, and so give them permission and model it for them as well.

Bottom Line: If your kids are embarrassed by your praise, you can help them feel proud of themselves and build their confidence with a few quick shifts.

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