We are always told a little encouragement goes a long way, but a new study has revealed that heaping compliments on children with low self-esteem can make the problem worse.
The findings of a study by Ohio State University showed adults tend to give kids with low confidence more inflated praise and that these children may actually shy away from new challenges in the wake of such excessive applause.
Lead author Eddie Brummelman notes that although previous studies have examined how praise influences children, this recent study is the first to analyze the impact of inflated praise.
“Inflated praise can backfire with those kids who seem to need it the most – kids with low self-esteem,” says Brummelman.
For the purposes of his study, he defines inflated praise as small changes in compliments given to children, which often means adding just one extra word. For example, rather than saying “you’re good at this,” inflated praise would be: “you’re incredibly good at this.”
Brummelman and his colleagues conducted three studies in total, involving children and adults or parents.
In one study, the researchers found that children who were identified as having low self-esteem received twice as much inflated praise from adults, compared with children who had high self-esteem.
“If you tell a child with low self-esteem that they did incredibly well,” says Brummelman, “they may think they always need to do incredibly well.”
He adds that these children “may worry about meeting those high standards and decide not to take on any new challenges.”
The researchers say their findings suggest that parents and adults may need to temper their instinct to give children with low self-esteem inflated praise.