Whenever I hear a parent shout "good girl" from across the room, I often wonder what message those words send to the child.

Does it send the message that there is a time when she is bad?

Does she think what makes her good at that very moment?

Does she receive an empty message, not knowing exactly what "good" means?

Does she think that if she doesn't perform to her mother's expectations she is valued less?

In my years in working with children and parents, I've found that general, empty praise doesn't get you very far. When a child hears phrases like "good job" or "nice work" she often doesn't have a reference point of what the praise is in relation to.

Now don't get me wrong, praise is an important parenting tool. In fact, it is very important in helping to foster a positive self-image and healthy self-esteem. But not all kinds of praise fit the bill.

In fact, a shout of praise meant to be positive can actually end up having a pretty negative effect on a child.

For example, there's a big difference in telling a child "good girl for cleaning up your toys" and
"I really liked how quickly you put your blocks away. You must feel proud."

What's the difference?

When a child hears "good girl for cleaning up your toys" a message is being sent that if she didn't clean up her toys, she wouldn't be good, which can trigger onward thinking to if I'm not good, I'm not loved.

If you are looking to positively impact your child's self-esteem or offer words of sincere encouragement, you may consider using positive purposeful praise.

Here's how:

Praise for effort, rather than outcome. "You worked really hard at completing that math problem." When we praise a child's effort, we help them see that they are control of their success. We're also able to take the focus off of performance and communicate that we value giving your best.

Praise desirable behavior. "I really liked how you shared your truck with Tommy. That was kind." When we praise desirable behavior on the spot, we positively reinforce it. Positively reinforced behavior eventually becomes the default behavior.

Praise your child in front of others. "Did you see Abby's ballet performance? She worked so hard! Wasn't it great!" Praising your child in front of others exponentially increases the effect of the praise. When she hears it, she feels good. When she hears others hear it, she feels great!

Praise without comparison. "I love how swam across the entire pool! That must take great strength." Even when she excels amongst her peers, the best type of praise keeps the focus on her valiant effort or accomplishment.

Positive, purposeful praise is an effective tool in helping your child develop a positive self-image and healthy self-esteem. Whether you are trying to reinforce a desirable behavior or increase your child's confidence, consider choosing your words carefully to maximize their impact.

Author's Bio: 

© 2011 by Dr. Caron B Goode, NCC, DAPA.
Dr. Goode is the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, a global online school for training successful, wealthy parenting coaches in home-based businesses. She is the author of fifteen books, including the international best seller, Kids Who See Ghosts, the national award-winner Raising Intuitive Children. See and review all of Dr. Goode’s books here.