As parents there are so many responsibilities to raising a child. One of the big ones is building up their self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s also a big part of what we do with martial arts training.
It can be tempting to shower them with good-jobs, hurrays and high fives, but we also need to ensure that such praise will have a real and lasting impact.
It turns out that too much praise can actually backfire. It can cause a dependency on constant approval. And, it will potentially lead to a fear of taking risks and an inability to manage failure. Too much praise is also patronizing and can make child’s efforts seem trivial.
We need them to value and find meaning in the encouragement that we give them.
Self-confidence and self-esteem are often discussed together and sometimes interchanged.
Self-confidence is a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities and judgement.
Self-esteem is a feeling of trust and assurance in one’s own worth.
A self-confident child feels good about what they can do.
A child with high self-esteem feels good about who they are.

Here are my tips for praising a child to develop both self-confidence and self-esteem.

Be genuine. Children have a better radar than we give them credit. Don’t dole praise for it’s own sake. Kids will know when our praise isn’t wholehearted and it won’t have the desired effect. Furthermore, they’ll lose trust in your words. When they do need a “pick me up” from you, it will fall flat.
Be specific. Instead of saying “You’re good at Karate.” (insert activity). Let them know what they are excelling with in the said activity. For example, “You’re side kicks looked great during karate class today.” Specific compliments enables them to associate the praise with a specific skill.
Urge them to try new things. And, praise them accordingly. This is all about rewarding the effort over the result. Instill a willingness to try, and fail, at new things. It will help them get out of their comfort zone and learn that every failure is a learning experience. Additionally, they’ll reap the joy of a new skill.
Don’t praise attributes. Instead praise actions. For example, when a child does something well or solves a challenging problem it’s easy toemphatically say: “You’re so smart!” However, what about when they can’t solve the problem? Are they no longer smart? Instead, recognize the effort and process they used to solve the problem. This will help them learn diligence and patience.
Don’t be stingy. Don’t be afraid to recognize, and in some cases, reward your child’s successes. Demonstrate that you know the difference between something that was easy for them and something that took a bit of work for them to accomplish. I’m often inclined to be “tough”, but being too tough may also make them feel inadequate or have a fear of taking risks.
It’s not an easy balance. We don’t want to be too hot or too cold…it need’s to be just right. Of course that’s easier said than done. Ultimately, it’s about slowing down and establishing a better connection with your child. It’s about understanding what’s important to them and what they need.
Master O’Brien