Stop Saying, "You’re So Smart" — Better Ways to Praise

Posted on | Holly Lindsey

There are better ways to praise your kids.

If you are anything like me, you love to praise your children and take opportunities to raise their self-esteem, especially during difficult struggles. But is your default compliment, “You’re so smart,” actually hurting more than helping?

Research shows when children are repeatedly told they are smart for completing a task, they form a fixed mindset and in turn become discouraged when facing difficult or challenging activities. When they are faced with the possibility of failure, they tend to shut down and do not want to continue the activity. But by changing the way we encourage our children, we can alter that fixed mindset. As parents, it is important to teach our children to learn to overcome obstacles. We need our children to persevere when faced with difficulty. So what are the better ways to praise our children?

Praise the process not the person.

Our children hear from us all the time how handsome they are, how much they have grown, how well they use their manners, etc. Instead of using their work to praise their character, praise their work. Teach your children that every step of the process is an accomplishment and they should be proud of each goal they have achieved along the way. They should be as proud of the small moments as you are. This also focuses on the child’s actions and efforts rather than defining his character.


  • "I can tell you have been practicing hard on your math work"
  • "I really like the way you…."
  • "I am proud of you because…."


Ask your son details about his work and talk through the struggles.

When discussing your son’s work with him, talk about each step and ask which parts were difficult for him. Talk about what made them difficult and how he overcame the obstacle. Compliment each step and encourage him, through your words, that you are proud he did not give up. By asking your son about the steps, you are also opening up a time to bond with your son and for him to express his feelings with you.

Be sincere.

Children can sense our intentions and they want us to be genuine in our words. If you are having trouble finding the words, then a smile, a hug, or laughter can go a long way.

In the end we want our children to feel encouraged and motivated through each milestone. We want them to know we are genuinely proud of them.

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24



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Presbyterian Day School (PDS) is a private, Christian preschool and elementary school serving boys from 2-years-old through 6th grade for almost 75 years.

With our mission of striving to glorify God by developing boys in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, we take a holistic approach to education, nurturing the heart, soul, mind, and body of each boy.

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Memphis, TN 38111


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