The #1 praise to avoid if you want to raise “stronger, more mature” kids: Harvard-trained parenting expert –

Author and toxic parenting researcher Jennifer Breheny Wallace

Jennifer Breheny Wallace

Do you want your children to grow up confident and successful? Be careful when you praise her, says toxic parenting researcher Jennifer Breheny Wallace.

Instead of highlighting their achievements, like a good grade on a report card, focus on the specific character traits that help them succeed, says Wallace, author of “Never Enough: When Achievement Pressure Becomes Toxic – and What We Can Do About.” It.” .”

“Recognizing other people’s strengths and acknowledging them makes those around us feel important,” she tells CNBC Make It.

For her book, Wallace interviewed child psychologists and surveyed 6,500 parents in the United States while working with Richard Weissbourd, a child psychologist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. (Wallace himself also has a degree from Harvard University.)

Wallace’s research found that highlighting children’s honesty, creativity and other positive qualities often helped them develop emotionally healthy. People become “stronger and more mature, less from being praised than from being known,” she recalls Weissbourd saying.

“We [need to] “See what is inherently valuable in them,” says Wallace. “Things that have nothing to do with external achievements.”

Some psychologists say that praising children for certain achievements can actually do more harm than good.

For many of the children and teens Wallace interviewed, the emphasis on getting good grades or winning a competition increased the pressure and stress they felt to build on those successes.

“This would be the new ground,” Wallace said. “And it just wasn’t sustainable for these kids. The praise was perceived as even more pressure, like: ‘This is what we expect from you now.’”

Research shows that children who see good grades as a result of effort and strength of character, rather than just their ability, will be more successful in the future. Likewise, children benefit greatly from understanding that their parents value them for who they are, not just their achievements, says Wallace.

Taken together, these children can build confidence to take on challenging projects without fear of failure and develop the ability to bounce back when they fail, she adds: “Instead of praising our children, [let] They know that we see them as they naturally are [and get] knowing them exactly for their strengths.”

Wallace’s strategy is easier said than done, she notes. Recognizing your child’s character strengths can be challenging, and the stress of parenting often shifts your focus more toward trying to fix their perceived weaknesses.

“We believe it is our job to improve our children’s weaknesses,” says Wallace. “But really, [it’s] We need to be, in the words of researchers, “a strength seeker” and truly recognize our children’s strengths so that we can strengthen the good in them and not be so fixated on the negative.”

One of their suggestions: Gather as a family to take the VIA Character Strengths Survey, a free online questionnaire developed by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. It takes about 10 minutes to complete and creates an individual profile for each person that highlights 24 positive human strengths such as bravery, creativity, kindness, humor and social intelligence.

Discussing the results with the family can help you recognize and talk about the ways your children embody certain strengths on a daily basis, says Wallace.

You can also ask your children’s teachers for advice, as they are often adept at identifying and highlighting children’s strengths. Wallace says she does this by annotating her children’s report cards: When a teacher writes a compliment, she underlines the praise and adds her own note.

For example, she says: “I see that too. You always help your siblings. How wonderful.”

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