Jan 03, 2014 03:15 PM EST
High Praise Is Harmful For Children With Low Self-Esteem
Inflated praise can be harmful for children with low self-esteem, according to a new study reported by Medical News Today.
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Researchers at Ohio State University found that children with low self-esteem shrink from new challenges when their parents and adults "heap the highest praise" on them.
"Inflated praise can backfire with those kids who seem to need it the most - kids with low self-esteem," Eddie Brummelman, lead author of the study and a visiting scholar at The Ohio State University in Fall 2013, said in a statement.
Brummelman defines inflated praise as small changes in compliments given to children, which often means adding just one extra word. So instead of saying "you're good at this," inflated praise would be: "you're incredibly good at this," Medical News Today reported.
The study involved 240 children.
In one of three related studies, researchers found that adults gave twice as much inflated praise to children identified as having low self-esteem compared to those children with high self-esteem.
In another study, 114 parents (88 percent mothers) participated with their child. Several days before the experiment, children completed a measure to determine their level of self-esteem. Researchers observed the parents administering 12 timed math exercises to their child. Afterwards, the parents scored how well their child did on the tests.
Researchers found that parents praised their children about 6 times during the session and about 25 percent of the percent of the praise was inflated. They also found that parents gave more inflated praise to children with low self-esteem than they did to children with high self-esteem, according to a press release from Ohio State University.
"Parents seemed to think that the children with low self-esteem needed to get extra praise to make them feel better," Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State, said in a statement. "It's understandable why adults would do that, but we found in another experiment that this inflated praise can backfire in these children."
In a third study, the children were asked to draw the famous Vincent van Gogh painting "Wild Roses" and then received inflated, non-inflated or no praise in the form of a note from someone identified as a "professional painter."
After receiving the note, the children were told they were going to draw other pictures, but they could choose which ones they would copy.
"They were told they could choose pictures that were easy to do, 'but you won't learn much.' Or they could choose to draw more difficult pictures in which 'you might make many mistakes, but you'll definitely learn a lot too,' "according to the press release.
Researchers found that children with low self-esteem were more likely to choose the easier pictures if they received inflated praise. By contrast, children with high self-esteem were more likely to choose the more difficult pictures if they received inflated praise.
The study suggests that inflated praise may put too much pressure on those with low self-esteem, Brummelman said.
"If you tell a child with low self-esteem that they did incredibly well, they may think they always need to do incredibly well. They may worry about meeting those high standards and decide not to take on any new challenges," he said.