Children with low self-esteem could be harmed if they are lavished with too much praise by parents, study claims

According to a study reported in the Independent, children with low self-esteem could be harmed if they are lavished with too much praise by parents for doing things well…

Inflated praise can lead to them retreating into their shell – and worry they will have to reach the same standard in future tasks, it says.

The researchers from Southampton University acknowledge this advice may run counter to parents’ intuition – but insist being called “incredibly good” could be bad for these children.

On the other hand, confident children will strive to do better and see the praise as a challenge to repeat or better their efforts.

“Inflated praise can backfire with those kids who seem to need it the most: kids with low self-esteem,” said Eddie Brummelman, lead author of the study.

Dr Sam Thomaes, lecturer in psychology at Southampton University, added using over-the-top words such as “incredibly” hindered children with low self-esteem.  “It demotivates them and we believe that when these children hear these words they take it as an illicit message that they have to keep to high standards,” he added.  “This scares then: they think they won’t be able to live up to it.”

The researchers conducted an experiment in which 144 parents (mostly mothers) administered 12 timed maths exercises to their children. They counted how many times the parents praised their children – and whether the praise was over the top or non-inflated.

The results showed parents praised their children six times on average during the session – and about 25 per cent of the comments were inflated praise, most of which was given to children with low esteem.

“Parents seemed to think that the children with low self-esteem needed to get extra praise to make them feel better,” said Brad Bushman, from Ohio State university and co-author of the study

“It is understandable why adults would do that, but we found in another experiment that this inflated praise can backfire.”

In this, 240 children were asked to copy a famous Van Gogh painting (Wild Roses) receiving reaction from someone only identified as a “professional painter”.  They were then asked to draw other pictures – but they could choose which ones,  They were told some were easy to do “but you won’t learn much” while others were difficult and “you might make many mistakes but you’ll definitely learn a lot too”.

The children with low self-esteem who had been lavishly praised chose the easier pictures while those with high esteem opted for the more difficult ones…

More at:  Children with low self-esteem could be harmed if they are lavished with too much praise by parents, study claims

Your thoughts on these claims? Might similar issues apply in the classroom? Please share in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Parenting.


  1. MinoHedgehog

    SchoolsImprove I can actually see the point of this theory and the Van Gogh example is very eloquent. Thanks for this…

  2. JeniHooper

    SchoolsImprove inflated praise doesn’t help low self esteem. I wonder if insincerity may contribute to a child’s uncertain self worth

  3. GoodallDanielle

    SchoolsImprove Is there a difference between praising achievement and praising effort or approach to a learning task?

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