Parents, please note! Praising your kid too much may not be such a good idea - especially if your child has low self-esteem, a new study has found.
Researchers found that adults seem to naturally give more inflated praise to children with low self-esteem.
While kids with high self-esteem seem to thrive with inflated praise, those with low self-esteem actually shrink from new challenges when adults go overboard on praising them.
"Inflated praise can backfire with those kids who seem to need it the most - kids with low self-esteem," said Eddie Brummelman, lead author of the study, a visiting scholar at The Ohio State University and a doctoral student in psychology at Utrecht University in The Netherlands.
For the research, 'inflated praise' meant small changes in the praise given to children, often involving just the addition of one additional word.
Inflated praise included an adverb (such as "incredibly") or adjective (such as "perfect") signalling a very positive evaluation. For example, "you're good at this" was simple praise, while "you're incredibly good at this" was considered inflated praise.
In one of three related studies, Brummelman and his colleagues 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 per cent mothers) participated with their child. Several days before the experiment, children completed a measure to determine their level of self-esteem.
In an observation at their homes, parents administered 12 timed math exercises to their child. Afterwards, the parents scored how well their child did on the tests.
Results showed that parents praised their children about 6 times during the session, and about 25 per cent of the praise was inflated.
Parents gave more inflated praise to children with low self-esteem than they did to children with high self-esteem.
In another experiment, 240 children drew a famous 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, kids were told they could choose to draw 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."
Results showed 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.
These findings suggest that inflated praise may put too much pressure on those with low self-esteem, Brummelman said.
The research will appear in the journal Psychological Science.