Praise What They Did, Not Who They Are!

How to harness the power of praise to build your children’s self-esteem

Raising kids with a healthy dose of self-esteem is one of the main goals parents have. In addition to a favorable attitude toward spending time with your child, which is the key to kid’s self-esteem, a fair dose of praise is effective in developing their self-image.

What kind of praise results in a happy and confident child? And which type of praise yields an arrogant and self-centered child?

Praise what the child did, not who the child is.

When your son arrives home from school holding his math test marked with 100%, resist the urge to express how smart and intelligent he is. Rather than exclaiming, “Wow, darling, you are brilliant!” a preferential statement would be, “Wow, darling, you knew the math so well, you did really well!”

The technical differences between praising the child’s identity, versus praising their actions may seem insignificant to some parents, yet the conclusions are powerful.

When a mother tells their daughter with a straight-A report-card, “Oh, sweetheart, you are just brilliant!” the girl believes that this is an integral part of her identity. However, what happens when next semester’s report-card is peppered with B’s and C’s? Who is she at this point? What if she were to meet a classmate whose report card showed only A+’s? That can lead her to confusion and questioning about who she really is.

On the other hand, when Mom responds to the straight-A report card with, “Oh, sweetheart, you did an incredible job in all your subjects, this is fantastic!” the praise remains with the girl forever. No one can ever take away the things she did in the past, and the accomplishments that she has done.

Keep on praising their actions, and you’ll raise a winner!


  1. reading this it makes perfect sense, but i’ve never looked at it that way before. i hope i manage to remember this each time i praise them.

  2. Hi Ema,

    We all need reminders… you’re in good company:)

  3. Thanks for writing this article. It’s a great way to help my children, only I must confess that I don’t always handle these situations well. I do tend to praise who they are and I cringe when I think about it. How can I condition myself to acknowledge their actions more. And could you give me a “standard” line that I could use when I can’t find the right words??

  4. Wow, I think I do both types of praise, but being aware of this principle is immensely helpful! I love the practicality of this. Now, only to apply it in my every day life….

  5. Thank you for the wonderful article. Good reminder.
    What do you do when physical appearance is the praise?In today’s society,there is a so much value placed on physical beauty.
    1)How do you raise a happy confident child when so much of that emphasis is placed on their physical appearance?
    2)You praise their actions vs their identity. ok. What do you do when everyone else (i.e. well-meaning family members)around you is undermining that by praising their beauty?

  6. Marlene Barnard says:

    I have great sadness. I have a neighbor couple who are simply the most vindictive, vengeful, hateful folks I’ve met in a long time. They are so childish, although they’re both in their fifties! I wonder about their childhoods….the anger they carry around, looking for people to dump it on, that anger must have come from somewhere!

    I don’t get mad, I get even! That phrase is so childish and represents someone with an unformed, unfinished inner being. If it were the Second Coming and Jesus appears with that slogan on his T-shirt, we’re in for a lot of trouble!

    How about, “I don’t get mad, I choose to get more loving!”

    I live in the town of Galt CA and pray for the healing of these two sick people.