The Perils of Praise

perils of praise

I often talk and write about how acknowledging a person’s behavior is more effective than offering praise. For example, saying, “You treated your bother with real consideration” is more empowering and has a greater positive emotional impact than saying, “I am so pleased by the way you treated your brother.”

Reinforcing and empowering self-understanding is much more useful for the person than praise, which shows no indication for judging progress.


  1. Praise prompts a dependence on others for approval.
  2. Praising youth can increase learned helplessness if young people rely on approval in lieu of their own motivation.
  3. Praise can generate disappointment for those who don’t receive it when others do. Experts call this “punished by praise.”
  4. When teachers tell students they are good because they know a right answer, young people can logically conclude that they are bad when they do not know the right answer. This equating of knowledge with goodness is dangerous.
  5. Young people grow to depend on praise—and may even demand it.
  6. When praising behavior that adults want to encourage, the message is that poor behavior is the norm. Young people often live up to such expectations.
  7. Praising youth often discourages creativity if the young become more concerned about pleasing others or conforming to adults’ expectations than on finding their own solutions to problems.
  8. Praise can make some children fearful of not being able to live up to expectations.
  9. When adults use praise as a technique for influencing young people to choose some desirable behavior, the youth often perceive their words as insincere.
  10. When adults praise students every time they sit up straight, wait in line, listen, or engage in routine behaviors, they often start to experience the praise as silly or irrelevant.
  11. Young people who become accustomed to receiving frequent praise come to interpret the absence of praise as a negative evaluation.
  12. Praise given to one person, or even to a few, often is translated by the others as a negative evaluation of themselves.
  13. Praising some children in front of their peers can be counterproductive if these youngsters experience the attention as embarrassing.
  14. Praise given to have children feel better can prompt a loss of faith in themselves and become discouraged.
  15. The practice of profusely praising low-performing students for trivial accomplishments can perpetuate their putting forth minimal effort.
  16. Praise given to students for minimal performance can actually worsen, not improve their functioning.
  17. Students may doubt their own ability or lose confidence if they perceive that their performance does not warrant praise. This leads students to have thoughts such as, “The teacher must really think I’m hopeless if I’m praised for that!” or “How could the teacher think that was good?”
  18. When a youngster is experiencing a problem, it is often accompanied by personal dissatisfaction. Praising here either goes “unheard,” has the youngster feel that the adult doesn’t really understand, or provokes an even stronger defense of the person’s low self-evaluation.
  19. If the praise does not fit with the child’s self-image, it can invoke resentment as the youngster may perceive it as an attempt at manipulation.
  20. When a person feels that the praise is not sincere, but delivered to manipulate behaving in a certain way, it can undermine intrinsic motivation.

Praise in Moderation

This does not mean that you should never use praise; it is natural to do so. The point here is to limit its use and consider using acknowledgments instead. An easy was to do this is to just eliminate reference to yourself, as in, “I am so proud of….”

People want recognition. Acknowledging what a young person has done accomplishes this without some of the problems of praise. You can read more about this topic in my book Discipline Without Stress.