03/14/2013 10:38 am ET Updated May 14, 2013

How to Praise Your Kids and Teens

Kids and teens are often dismissive of praise from their parents. I am sure that parents out there can relate to this, as we have been all been told at one time or another by one or several of our kids, "stop it mom" or even, "you're just saying that because you are my parent and you have to say that." I can assure you, though, that they are listening. They will probably not thank you for this praise until they are in their twenties, but don't let that stop you from praising them during their childhood and teen years. Just be careful how you praise them. A little praise may go a long way -- especially if it is the right kind of praise.

It appears that the way to go is to praise their efforts according to a study by Brummelman, MS, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues. These researchers concluded that kids should be praised primarily for their efforts, rather than for their personal characteristics, because if they are praised for effort, then a poor performance is more likely to be seen as a glitch, rather than a valid reflection of who they are as individuals.

Let's think about this together. If you are a teenager or a child of any age and are constantly told how brilliant you are, then when you do poorly on a test or a few tests, you may feel like you have suddenly lost your status as brilliant and may now feel ashamed that you are merely average or even dumb. If you are a girl who is constantly being told how beautiful you are, then on a day when you don't look or feel so good, you may decide that you are unattractive. This is the problem that develops when we are praise our kids for global personality characteristics that they can't always live up to.

Now, let's think about how to refocus our efforts to get the most out of our compliments.
How about saying, "You put that outfit together nicely," to your child rather than, "You are so pretty." You see, the focus is on effort here rather than on a global personality characteristic. Or, how about trying "I love watching how much you love drawing," rather than "You are a fabulous artist." You see by praising the effort, the child doesn't feel the need to live up to an impossible standard.

And an additional benefit of this sort of praise is that I believe that it would lend itself to less labeling of our kids, for example, "the smart one," "the social one" and "the shy one." You all know what I mean. We are all so prone to this sort of behavior.