Headstart for Life

Are you praising the right way?

Hello! Welcome back to HeadStart for Life’s blog, Beyond Therapy!

“Nice hair, great smile, and good work over there!”

This week’s post is all about praising!

Praising is a good way to bond with your child. Parents and teachers often use praises to help children feel encouraged and motivated in their learning. We use praises so frequently in our daily interactions that, at times, we become less aware of how we praise. In this post, we discuss two types of praises: Person-oriented praise, and process-oriented praise. We also offer some suggestions on the do’s and don’ts when praising your child.

With children, praises are commonly used to express approval of an observed behavior or characteristic. Very often, we conveniently give praises such as “good girl”, “clever boy”, or “well done” to acknowledge a behavior that we like. Even so, it is important to know that the type of praise we give can shape our children’s attitude towards learning.

Research studies described two general types of praises namely, person-oriented praise and process-oriented praise. The former focuses on the child’s innate characteristics (e.g. “You are so smart!”), while the latter addresses the efforts used to accomplish a task (e.g. “You are working really hard!”). It was suggested that these two types of praises impact the child in different ways.

Toddler girl sitting and playing. Designed by Freepik.com.

Toddler girl sitting and playing. Designed by Freepik.com.

In general, process-oriented praise may be more beneficial than person-oriented praise. Researchers found that students given process-oriented praise tend to seek challenges by setting higher goals, and reported higher task enjoyment and intrinsic motivation compared to those given person-oriented praise. With process-oriented praise, the child believes that his achievements are contingent to the amount of hard work he put in and his choice of strategy. This encourages perseverance in the face of failure, shaping a positive attitude towards learning.

On the other hand, children conditioned with person-oriented praise may see their achievements as a result of their traits. They may believe that success or failure is a fixed outcome depending on having a specific quality (e.g. being clever). As a result, they may form unrealistic expectations of themselves, avoid trying challenging tasks, and may believe that the love and attention they get depends on their performance. Such mindsets are damaging to the child’s self-image, self-esteem and intrinsic motivation.


How then, can we practice better praising? Here are some tips to consider.



Be specific.
Always tailor your praise to a specific behavior, situation, or skill that occurred. Let your child know what exactly he did that you like.

Focus on process.
Good learning is always about the process of learning from our mistakes. Focus on how your child kept trying to tie the shoelaces, or about how much fun he had attempting to fix the puzzle.

Show genuine interest.
Pay attention to the little efforts he made. Smile, give eye contact, and use a warm affirmative tone when delivering praise. Let your child know that you are proud of his little steps.


Avoid comments on ability.
Linking success with abilities may suggest that the puzzle was solved because he was “a clever boy”. This may suggest to the child that success is a predetermined outcome, discouraging attempts on future challenges.

Avoid focusing on outcome.
Focusing on the outcome (e.g.” You got 3 correct, try to get 5 next time!”) shows that you value the child’s achievements more than his efforts and suggests that the child is loved only when he performs well.

Avoid over-praising.
Praises are reinforcing. However, praises that are not honest can feel insincere as it does not reflect what was actually done. Children who frequently receive overly inflated praise may also become overly reliant on praises.


Here are some examples of process-oriented praise you can start using with your child.

During art activities

  • I like how you are tracing nicely!
  • I see you are trying hard to colour inside the shape, good try!
  • Very good painting the background gently!

During play time

  • I like how you are waiting nicely for the toy!
  • That is a very good try with the ball! Mummy is proud of you!
  • Good playing nicely with the doll!

During learning time

  • You kept trying even though it was difficult, that was great!
  • You made a good try on this question, very nice!
  • You tried to turn the puzzle around! I like that!

Helping out at home

  • Good holding the spoon nicely!
  • Thank you for packing away so well! That was nice!
  • I like how you are wiping the table nicely!

Have a fun time & happy bonding! See you back at Beyond Therapy and HeadStart for Life soon!



Brummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Orobio de Castro, B., Overbeek, G., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). “That’s not just beautiful-that’s incredibly beautiful!”: The adverse impact of inflated praise on children with low self-esteem. Psychological Science, 25(3), 728-735. doi:10.1177/0956797613514251

Corpus, J. H., & Lepper, M. R. (2007). The effects of person versus performance praise on children’s motivation: Gender and age as moderating factors. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 27(4), 487-508. doi: 10.1080/01443410601159852

Davie, S. (2014). Praise Child for His Efforts, Not His Grades. Asiaone.com. Retrieved from: http://www.asiaone.com/praise-child-his-efforts-not-grades-0

Droe, K. L. (2012). Effect of verbal praise on achievement goal orientation, motivation, and performance attribution. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 23(1), 63-78. Doi: 10.1177/1057083712458592

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.prospero.murdoch.edu.au/10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.33

Ward, L. (n.d.). How To Praise Your Kids. Parents.com. Retrieved from: https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/how-to-praise-your-kids/



"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Jesline

Jesline believes that every child can learn given the right learning process, and strives to make every learning experience fun and enjoyable. She also loves art and enjoys sharing this passion with the children. In her free time, she enjoys splashing paint on canvases and jiving to 20s swing music.

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