Having worked with teenagers all my life, I have been acutely aware of the need to build the self esteem of youngsters in my care, by issuing lots of praise. I have trained myself to notice a child’s sincere effort, their improvement and excellent performance; all good reasons, to give praise. However it was a bit discouraging to learn that the words I had been using to build self esteem had limited effectiveness and sometimes backfired. I learned that descriptive praise was far more effective in building self esteem compared to evaluative praise.
Let me explain.
Evaluative praise is the most common form of praise in all relationships to build self esteem. This includes the parent teenager relationship. Evaluative praise is conveyed through expressions like: “Good work”, “well done”, “I like your work” and so on.
In the parent teenager relationship, this form of praise is far better than words of negativity or none at all. However its effectiveness in building self confidence, self identity and self esteem is limited because the words chosen are generic, often used as cliches and say nothing of the specifics of your child’s performance.
Another limitation of evaluative praise is the fact that it is focused on the giver rather than the receiver. Just as evaluative praise can be issued one day, it can be withdrawn the next.
On the other hand, descriptive praise is a method where the parent describes what they observe in their child, who in turn, naturally heaps praise upon themselves. Also by providing your child with an accurate description of your observation of their performance, this becomes an important form of feedback which will remain with the child.
The difference between evaluative praise and descriptive praise can be seen in the following fairly typical parent teenager relationship scenario.
Supposing you have a teenager who is a keen soccer player of average ability and fitness level but who seeks to improve their game. On game day, in the opening minute, your teenager happens to be in the right place at the right moment and slams through a goal. During the half time break you approach your teenager and tell him “that was a fantastic goal, well done”. This is an example of evaluative praise.
The evaluative praise could be taken well. However your teen may take it with a grain of salt ie with some skepticism. They could interpret their success as just being lucky. They could think that: “Since I am not a key player I was not marked and so I was given some latitude by the opposition”. Most likely, scoring a goal and subsequently receiving evaluative praise from their coach, team mates and parent would result in some positive feelings. However there is a high probability that the value of the experience would be limited and evaporate over time.
Now take a moment to contrast the aforementioned example of evaluative praise with an example of descriptive praise as follows: “I observed that as soon as the whistle sounded to begin the game you ran back into your defensive zone and then you quickly rebounded off your opponent and ran into your offensive zone. Since you ran into some open space the mid fielder had little choice but to pass it off to you. With about ten meters between you and your direct opponent, you had all the time in the world to position yourself perfectly to kick a goal. The goal came as a result of your quick thinking and positioning.
Through the aforementioned example, you simply share your observation, which would be hard for your teenager to refute. Through such an action, it is highly likely that your teenager will agree that their right actions resulted in them scoring a goal. Naturally then they will commend themselves and their right actions on the field, resulting in a boost to their self esteem. Such an experience would become an important reference point for your teen, on their journey of self development.
In your parent teenager relationship make the effort to go beyond evaluative praise and become a parent that makes that extra bit of effort to relay back to your teenager your observation of their performance or actions. This will cause your teenager to praise themselves and in the process build their self esteem.
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Author: Paul G SaverThis author has published 3 articles so far.