Thoughts On Praise (Or, Your Kid Is Awesome)

It was the cocked hip and cocky head shake from the sixth grader surrounded by second graders that caught my attention.


She got a little to up-in-your-face with one of the little girls. “Did you just say “look at her pants?” Yeah, this is my costume. I do hip-hop, and this is what we wear.” Her face was a little scary, to be honest.

I will admit, I am not a fan of  saggy-ass Hammer pants. They make even the skinniest of girls look like they have a poopy diaper, so I can’t say that I blamed the second-grader for pointing them out, particularly this pair which were black-and-white checked.  It was an innocent-enough comment – maybe one that you and I, as adults, would make quietly to each other (ok, some of the moms had already commented on how unfortunate they looked) but one of the things that you don’t have at eight is a good filter.

“Do you know who I am?” she continued, staring down the now bug-eyed younger girl as more second graders gathered around in curiosity. “I’ve performed on cruise ships, I’ve performed all over the U.S.”  She saw that a few of the moms had an eye on how this was going to go down, and she backed up a step and said she’d show them her moves. The girls watched her in awe as she started dancing for them.

Unfortunately, the rest of the sixth graders in the dressing room were not so impressed, and eye-rolling and head shakes abounded along with some less-than-repeatable comments.

All I could think, sadly, was that someone along the way did this pretty dancer a great disservice. Someone did a huge number on her ego. She thought she was all that and a bag of chips – and had become a bit of a prima donna.

I’m all for providing praise and encouragement to my kids. It’s necessary. Heck, we can’t help it – it’s what we do when we are proud of them and love them, and  I’m all for helping them build more confidence.

But it’s also something that you have to be careful with, lest they rely on the praise as a measure of self-worth, or worse yet, develop an overblown sense of their own abilities.

It’s tough to do, but as best we can, it’s best to  try to praise the action or activity, and not the child.

My daughter confessed that some of the steps have been very difficult, and she has been working very hard on her dances. Is she fantastic?   Well, she can strike a pose like nobody’s business, and she can shake her hips in a way that disturbs me at some levels. But no – she is not ready for the Joffrey Ballet, and I don’t expect her to be a professional dancer.  The most important thing to me is that, good or bad, she loves what she is doing and gives it her full effort.

However,  I was proud as hell of her, particularly with her ballet as she and the other two little girls in her class did their dance, just the three of them, in between two other classes of bigger girls who sat gracefully onstage.

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Watching other parents pick up their kids, we heard “You were the best one out there” and “You were perfect”. I won’t judge, because I’m sure in their mind their child was the best out there. Heck, maybe they were the best one on stage at the time.

I don’t expect perfection in my kids. That’s just too much pressure for anyone.

When we saw her in the dressing room after the dance, we asked her “Did you have fun?” because for me, at eight, that is the most important thing – particularly after a week of long dress rehearsals and late nights.

We told her “You had a big smile onstage!” and “Wow – you remembered all your steps tonight!” 

And, yes, we told her she did a great job, and that we were proud of her – because she did, and we are.



  1. Yes indeed you can overpraise your kids. My daughter was also a performer – she did musical theater as a child and then was in show choir in high school – and as much as I absolutely adored watching her (seriously, one of the best things in my life ever), I never was deluded – nor was she – that she was “the best one up there.” How many kids have been horribly disappointed, upon reaching adulthood, to find that there are millions of others who are the best one up there?

    I have a friend who went to NYC to become a professional dancer when she was 18. She was wonderful, but as she said, every single amazing dancer in the world is there trying to do the same thing. Be realistic, parents!

    • Exactly! I remember moving from a VERY small Catholic elementary school and being in the top students of the class to a larger high school – oh, the trauma of not being the smartest there!

      This falls right in with the importance of allowing your kids to fail, and not making excuses for them when they do. But that is another post, entirely.

  2. Gmom Phyl says

    I don’t think a child thinks she’s the best one out there. She knows the mistakes she makes. She’s probably harder on her self than anyone else would be. I think a child is more apt to ask “Did I do OK?” It is not a question of being the best or failing, but being somewhere on the continuum.

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