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Self-confidence by complimenting

2021-03-01 00:00:00

Written by Amber Simons

The main focus in parenting these days is on positive contact and language. Which includes giving your child plenty of compliments. And so, with today being National Compliment Day, we are taking this opportunity to talk about paying compliments to your child.

Why you should compliment your child
Compliments stimulate positive behaviour and self-esteem in a child. On the one hand, your child will behave in a certain manner more often when they notice that they are getting approval and appreciation for it. On the other, approval and appreciation also increases your child’s self-esteem. And when your child feels confident, they will easier dare to attempt things, they will be more likely to have the courage to push boundaries by looking for the next challenge, and they will be more likely to involve other children. All of which are good for their development.
Without this confidence, children (just like adults) do not dare to embark on something new and are more likely to give up, because they are convinced that they will fail. Compliments also provide insight into themselves and the world around them, which is important when it comes to growing up to become a resilient and self-confident individual!

Can you give too many compliments?
Focusing on what your child is doing right is better than focusing on what your child is doing wrong, right? That’s why we, as adults, tend to shine a light on every time a child succeeds, every time a child listens well, or every time a child shows courage. After all, you want to let every child feel that they can become whatever they want, from a hairdresser to an astronaut to an artist. But where is the line between reacting positively and complimenting excessively?
Research shows that excessive compliments are counterproductive. Especially when your child does not have much self-esteem to begin with. Excessive compliments place high expectations on them, which children then feel that they must continuously meet. Ultimately, this leads to them avoiding challenges. Which means they do not push boundaries and do not develop to their optimal ability. Giving lots of compliments can also mean that children no longer value a compliment or that they become dependent on them.
However, if children receive few, or no, compliments, they will eventually start to question themselves because they are never told that they are doing well. And therefore, it is difficult to find a good balance.

A process-oriented, product-oriented or person-oriented compliment
Process-oriented compliments concern the commitment and effort that a child shows. Product-oriented compliments mainly focus on the result and the accomplishment. Person-centred compliments emphasise the personal qualities of a child, such as intelligence, friendliness or talent.
Research shows that when you give a person-oriented or product-oriented compliment, for example “You’re so clever!” or “That went well”, children do not gain more self-esteem. In fact, it can cause them to become insecure and more focused on possible failure. As a result, they will not choose to do things that they can learn from, but things they are already good at. Which ultimately will thwart their development.
However, when children are complimented on their behaviour, commitment and effort, for example “You’ve really done your best”, their self-esteem actually increases. They aren’t upset by the fact that something didn’t work out; they are happy because they get approval and appreciation for their endeavours. These children are more inclined to take on harder challenges, with the belief that they will eventually succeed. It doesn’t matter if something doesn’t work out, because the focus is on their efforts. And this also stimulates resilience. 

The best way to compliment

  • Give a compliment at that moment in time, and not later. This ensures that your child understands what the compliment is for and they can link the exact situation and behaviour to it. It is difficult for young children to recall a situation, and therefore the compliment will lose some of its value.
  • Only give a compliment if it is sincere. Don’t compliment for the sake of it. Constant complimenting about something, regardless of whether your child is doing well or has put a lot of effort into it, is not effective. Children will then only behave in a certain way for the purpose of being complimented, while it is better if they are intrinsically motivated to do something. They will also attach less value to subsequent compliments.
  • Give a substantive compliment. So, don’t say “Well done!” or “Good job!”, but highlight exactly what you think is good. This ensures that your child will understand exactly what they are being shown appreciation for with your compliment and they know exactly what it is that they are evidently doing well. Paying your child a substantive compliment also means you are showing them respect, as “Well done!” or “Good job!” can sometimes come across as patronising.
  • Give a descriptive compliment that is without judgment. For example: “You can play with so many different children”, instead of “How nice that you asked him to play too”. This means that you prevent your child from becoming dependent on your judgment and developing a sense of not being good enough as they are.
  • Give your child a chance to compliment themselves by asking what they think of their behaviour in a particular situation. That way, you teach your child to recognise these moments and to appreciate themselves instead of needing to take all the appreciation from others.
  • Always give a compliment without making any remarks. For example, by adding “…wish you always did that” after the compliment. It nullifies the positive effect of the compliment.


If you’d like to find out more about how we approach compliments at our childcare centre, then feel free to come and take a look. Please get in touch to request a tour.