Why Parents Should Never Mix Praise with Criticism

Never mix praise with criticism.
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It’s a common mistake parents make - they finally catch their child being good, and they can’t resist offering a compliment with a hint of criticism. Unfortunately, those back-handed compliments can do more harm than good.

The Dangers of Back-Handed Compliments

Praise is a form positive reinforcement that when used correctly, can encourage kids to keep up the good work. Positive feedback can play a critical role in promoting good behavior.

Words of affirmation, combined with non-verbal gestures – like a high-five or pat on the back – send a positive message to your child. He’ll feel good when he receives that positive feedback and he’ll want to keep up the good work so he can keep receiving praise.

If you combine praise with a hint of criticism, your sentiments may reduce your child’s motivation. He’ll be left feeling bad about his performance, and will be less motivated to keep up the good work.  

Examples of Praise Mixed with Criticism

Sometimes parents think they’re offering praise when in reality, their words come across as sarcastic and critical. Here are a few examples of praise mixed in with criticism:

  • Good job putting your dishes in the sink. Now if you’d only do that every time, we’d have something!
  • I’m glad to see you finally made your bed today.
  • Great job on your math test. Imagine how good you could do if you studied for your science tests too?
  • Thanks for putting your clothes away for once!
  • I’m happy you finally decided to take my advice and put on your jacket. Maybe one of these days you’ll figure out that it’s not that warm out.
  • Nice hustle today. If you played like that every day, you’d probably win more games!
  • That’s a good start on cleaning your room, but it needs a few more hours of work.
  • I’m glad you’re playing nicely with your sister today. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Separate Praise from Criticism

When you catch your child being good, remember the goal is to reinforce that behavior. So set aside your frustration or your resentment, and keep your sentiments kind. Look for words like “at least,” “finally,” or “this time,” which can signal you’re about to utter a piece of criticism.

If there’s inappropriate behavior that needs to stop, or if your child isn’t following directions, go ahead and offer negative feedback. Tell him he’s behaving inappropriately or offer a suggestion about how he can improve. Stay calm during those teachable moments and make your expectations clear.

Separate those moments from the times where you catch your child being good. In those moments, offer pure praise that will motivate him to keep up the good work.

Make sure that the amount of praise you give greatly outnumbers the amount of negative feedback. Kids are much more likely to listen to your directions, follow your rules, and want to earn your praise if you have a healthy, positive relationship.

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