Please Don't Praise Me

Please Don’t Praise Me

Please Don't Praise Me

“Wow! That’s really good jumping!”

“Ugh, I’m on a trampoline don’t you know? It’s not hard.”

Those awkward moments when your kids aren’t used to being praised and then someone praises them and they’re all like what on earth are you on about? True story.

Whenever I make a comment that suggests that praising kids is not all that great, I get many people telling me how praise is good. How much kids like it and need it. How it’s encouraging and motivating.

I honestly believe that it’s not the praise they like, but simply being noticed. I really feel like if all children knew they could be acknowledged without being praised, they would say, ‘Please don’t praise me’.

Maybe they would tell us something like this…

Please don’t praise me, it’s a judgment.

Please Don't Praise Me

When you tell me something I have done is ‘good’, that is a judgement. Yes, it’s a positive judgement, but still a judgment. I don’t need you to judge me as worthy or unworthy. I just need you to see me, to notice me. I’m not trying to live up to your standards. I just want to be me, and accepted for that.

Please don’t praise me, because then I feel like I can’t disappoint you.

If I am always ‘good’ and ‘brave’ and ‘kind’ and ‘nice’ and a ‘winner’, I feel like I have to keep living up to your standards. I have to keep being the person you think I am. And what if I’m not?  What if some days I feel grumpy? What if I feel scared? Am I no longer ‘good’? Am I a disappointment? How can I ever tell you how I really feel when it might disappoint you? That’s too risky.

Please Don't Praise Me

Please don’t praise me, I feel like your love is conditional.

When you praise me I feel like you are seeing only my achievements and not the real me. I feel as though I must earn your love through what I do and how I behave. I feel like I have to keep doing more and more and better and better for you to notice me.

“When children feel they must keep doing impressive things so their parents will be proud of them, their acceptance of themselves may become equally conditional.” –Alfie Kohn

Please don’t praise me, it kills my motivation.

When I am working hard at something, I am doing it for me. I am intrinsically motivated to explore and discover the world. When you praise me for my natural curiosity, you dampen that motivation. No longer am I motivated solely by my own desire, but also to please you. I also start to need praise. I no longer trust in my own decisions and judgement.

Please don’t praise me, it steals my joy.

Please Don't Praise Me

When I run to you and show you something I have done, with joy on my face and excitement at my own capabilities, please don’t praise me. You take a little of my joy by making it about you. Your judgement. Your feelings.

Just see me.

Please don’t praise me, it feels like control.

When I am ‘good’ because I do the things you want me to do, it feels like control and pressure. I know you sometimes use those words to ‘encourage’ me. I don’t need to be constantly encouraged to be a ‘good’ person. I need you to know that I already am.

Please don’t praise me, that’s not what I need.

All I need is for you to see the real me. All I need is to feel connected to you. All I need is for you to share in my joy and accomplishments. All I need is an authentic relationship, not one based on control.

Please Don't Praise Me

Children don’t need our praise. They need our unconditional love and acceptance.

I know the praise habit is hard to kick. This post has some ideas about what to say/do instead.

Please Don't Praise Me - Why kids don't want or need praise!


Phyllis at All Things Beautiful
January 3, 2018 at 11:11 pm

When my daughter was little, she had Global Language Disorder and some behavioral problems. I was told by the “professionals” to praise her when she was behaving well, and to praise her as much as I could. I did as instructed and every time I praised her, she would then do something negative in a big way. She was clearly angry when she acted out then. No one could tell me why she behaved this way. Needless to say, I stopped praising her. This post is the first time I have any sort of explanation for her response to praise. Thank you for your insights.

    April 21, 2018 at 10:19 am

    The CDC actually has a great section on parenting of young children that has some advice from experts on how to handle children who act-out in response to praise.
    “It is true that some children will actually misbehave after being praised. There are two reasons for this. First, your child may be looking for more attention. If you yell at or scold him for throwing his toys, you are giving him a form of attention called negative attention. Sometimes kids find negative attention like yelling or scolding better than no attention. Your child may also act up after being praised because he does not know how else to respond. He may need time to get used to it. The important thing is that you continue praising him for behaviors you would like to see more often. Ignore the challenging behaviors when you can.”

    April 21, 2018 at 10:22 am

    This kind of praise is also generally recommended to be phased out gradually, as well. If a child refuses to ever sit at the dinner table, praise them when they finally do sit down. But once they start always sitting at the dinner table, that praise becomes superfluous and even condescending. Hopefully the professionals you saw also explained that aspect of it.

January 4, 2018 at 2:52 am

I agree with this but struggle with the habit. So what DO you say instead?

    January 8, 2018 at 12:06 am

    I was wondering the same thing. I see these patterns and now she constantly wants praise.

    Jessica Dobbie
    January 11, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    If a good friend of yours did something you liked,what would you do? I know I wouldnt say “good job”. I think Sara answers the question when she says that kids want us to notice them and be present, rather than a pat on the head. My 10 month old daughter LOVES it when I join in with what shes doing, so rather than saying “great crawling Mae, or I like how you are patting the cat so gently” I just get on my hands and knees and crawl about with her, or join in with snuggling the cat. Shes probably younger than your children/child, but I wonder whether your child might like that too? “Mummy, watch me jump on the trampoline!” “Ohhh can I join!!”

January 4, 2018 at 5:51 am

Beautiful. You’re so right about children needing to be SEEN and parents confusing that with praise. Many of us only received positive acknowledgement as kids in the form of praise, so it takes some rewiring to parent differently.

As with so many parenting dilemmas, “Would I say this to an adult I love and respect?” is a good test. We would never thank our partners with a “Good boy!” or a falsely cheerful “What good sweeping!”

Clare Crew
January 4, 2018 at 1:05 pm

Loved this post. A great book along these lines is ‘Parent Speak’ by Jennifer Lehr (a foreword by Alfie Kohn hints at how good a read it is).

I spoke to Jennifer on my podcast, a good listen but the book is even better.

January 7, 2018 at 1:36 am

Hey I want to say thank you so much for your blog, I grew up emotionally neglected and your blog has been so cathartic and healing for me to read and reinforces my beliefs about how children should be treated.

“no praise” threw me for a loop when I first saw it, but it makes sense in context. From this, I am unsure how to compliment kids without praising them, I love my friend’s art so I complement their art, so I want to complement kid’s art and show them I appreciate it as well.

I am still not entirely sure what the answer is, but Shayla’s litmus test of “would you say this to an adult” seems to work. Every time I hear someone call a kid “good boy/girl” I cringe internally. Are they a dog? It’s dehumanizing and patronizing, and above all one of the things I hated most as a kid was being patronized. So I won’t patronize kids.

    September 20, 2019 at 5:48 am

    You can comment in a descriptive way, or ask questions. Rather than saying “What a great picture!” you could say “That tree looks really realistic. The shadows underneath add such depth” or “I see you’ve used a lot of blue in this picture. Why did you choose to do that, was it to create a particular mood?” or similar.

    Your compliment is that you are noticing, like this article states. Really paying attention. Which is way more appreciated than a bland bit of praise!

January 7, 2018 at 3:06 am

I love this so much. Your upbringing determines so much about who you become.. For me and my desire to be a mom one day, this is the kind of knowledge I need. Definitely bookmarking this entire blog haha. Thank you for sharing. <3

January 11, 2018 at 4:24 pm

I agree re praise but often struggle with what would be an appropriate response. Would love to know how do you react in these situations instead?

    May 26, 2020 at 4:16 am

    Janet Lansbury also writes about this topic (you can probably search *praise* on her site), and she suggests narrating what the child is doing, For example, Oh you’re building a tall tower, or You went down the slide on your tummy!

January 12, 2018 at 8:39 am

I see your point. I’m not sure that I agree. When I do my job, or when I do stuff around the house, I’m already intrinsically proud and pleased with what I have done or am doing – but it’s still really nice and makes me feel really good when my boss tells me the display is great, or the kids in my class tell me that they think I’m a great teacher, or my husband tells me dinner was delicious. Even though I already know I did a good job, it’s kind of nice for somebody else to show you that they agree.
With my own children I say things like, “you look really proud” with a big beaming face so they can see that I am really proud too.

    January 19, 2018 at 12:15 am

    This makes sense to me. I’ve struggled with this one a lot too and was never completely on board but something clicked with reading this post, and it may have just been timing. Growing up I was always told that my drawings were good, and I hated hearing it. What I didn’t see was that they were good by the adult’s standard – good compared to another four year old’s, more skilled than a child of the same age – but in MY head, I was measuring them against the picture I saw that wouldn’t come out right on paper. It felt dismissive and like they didn’t really get it.

    But I do love when people notice the RIGHT things – the things I worked hard on. “Wow, the display looks great!” as an adult, I can take that as acknowledging what I did and noticing me and my hard work (assuming I put effort into it). It feels like the person is seeing me, they’re seeing my effort and work, and it does feel good to have that acknowledged.

      Deng Koang Giel
      February 14, 2018 at 2:30 pm

      I totally agreed with you Sarah because I believed it might be a pivotal idea to appreciate what a little child has done like an adult person. Since anything you do take your time and energy and so do children too, they deserves to be “praises”for their performance.

March 12, 2018 at 8:23 pm

This is interesting. I’m learning about gentle parenting methods and I can see the benefit of not overly praising or using misplaced praise, but don’t we all like to be praised sometimes? If I’m proud of something I’ve done and I share it with someone close to me, it’s lovely to hear they think it’s good too. Or is that due to insecurity on my part would you say?

April 9, 2018 at 8:55 pm

I am now torn between words of affirmation upon reading this post but this completely makes sense in a way when it is right to praise and not. I mean, certainly right that not all aspects of doing good should be praised. I, on the other hand also get annoyed if a simple action was praised on my behalf.

Carol rodgers
October 28, 2018 at 7:04 pm

I love these reads so much to learn from them.

January 23, 2019 at 3:53 am

Yes, yes, yes! The push back about not praising kids is intense. I am participating in an early years course at the moment and the last two weeks have been about reward and praise. Challenging these ideas is hard, but important. Thank you for writing about it.

January 23, 2019 at 8:43 pm

I have a friend who’s parents never praised her. Now she has her own children she’s always praising them. I see their eyes glaze over and they almost raise their eyes to heaven as if to say ‘alright mum you can stop now’. Their dad praises them occasionally and their little faces light up when that happens.
I think some praise is important but too much and it just looses its meaning.

September 20, 2019 at 12:29 pm

When I first heard the concept that praising is destructive rather than encouraging, I asked my 10 year old daughter about it. I was forthright with her, and told her I had just heard in a conference talk that praising is not helpful to a child. What did she think about praise? She thought for a moment, and she agreed that praise did not make her feel better about what she was doing, did not make her feel better about herself, and yes, she would appreciate it if I didn’t praise her any more. Like the article states, she did want my attention, she did want to be noticed, but not praised. She is now 23 years old and one of my best friends!

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