Self-esteem activities for kids: the art of positive praise


“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”– Mother Theresa

In a management survey I read recently, 88% of people who left their company said they didn’t receive enough acknowledgement for the work they did and felt unappreciated. I found that percentage to be staggeringly high but not really a surprise.

I remember when I was a teacher working with a colleague getting her classroom ready for Parent’s Open Day as the Headmaster came in. He chatted for a while and really praised the displays on the wall but pointed out that there was some blu-tac missing from one of the paintings and he thought it looked untidy as the left hand corner was curling up slightly. My colleague was really upset when he left as she had worked tirelessly on her classroom for hours yet she only remembered the comments after the word “but.”

This got me thinking about the power of appreciation in our family lives and the way we praise and encourage our children. If you spend most of your time being positive yet finish your sentences with “but”, you negate all the positive things you’ve already said to your kids and they will only remember the words after your “but. “

For example, “I think you’re brilliant at writing your own songs and playing the guitar but I hate it when you leave the guitar propped up against the armchair like that and with all the wires sticking out from your mike. It’s just so careless and anyone could knock it over or trip over them.”

What do you think your child is going to remember most?

The fact that you think he’s a great musician or the fact that you think he’s messy?

There are actually three types of appreciation because there are three ways the brain processes information – visually, auditory or kinesthetically.

Visual children like to feel appreciated by things they can see like, cards, certificates, plaques or cups – things they can keep and put up on the wall to remember and cherish.

Auditory children like to hear appreciation so verbal praise and the warm tone in your voice and the words you use mean a lot to them.

While kinesthetic children love to be hugged, have their hand held or their hair tussled to feel appreciated.

If you are in doubt, use all three types!

But for this week, just start to notice and pay attention to the way you show appreciation towards your kids – perhaps you give them praise in the way you like to receive it but they may like to receive it in a different way and by changing your approach you may find your child beaming at you in surprise and delight.

One easy thing to do this week is simply to ask your children to remember a time when they felt most loved and listen to their answers carefully to see how they respond. Then you can work out whether they prefer the visual, auditory or the kinesthetic way.

If I asked you to name the five wealthiest people in the world or five people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize or an Oscar I bet you couldn’t do it. But if I asked you to remember five people who made a difference in your life like friends, family, teachers or colleagues who showed you appreciation, I bet you could do that really easily.

Make genuine appreciation part of your parenting toolkit and watch your relationships flourish.

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For more self-esteem activities for kids, see our activities for kids page.