Kids and praise

How to build them up without doing long term harm

Praise: We all want out kids to be happy and grow up to be secure well-adjusted adults. Naturally we tend to praise them for how talented, intelligent or pretty they are. Unfortunately, too much of this can have a very dark side with serious long term effects. The highly beneficial alternative is to praise them for how much effort they put into what they do. Long term follow-up studies show how functional intelligence goes up over time in the effort praise group and down in the intelligence and/or talent praise group.

When we grow up being continuously being praised for intelligence or talent, it often creates a burden of expectancy; it becomes our defining personal and public identity. The rub lies in the reality that we can’t possibly be perfect or the infallible expert in every challenge we face in our lives.

There’s a world of difference in the message received between a child being told “I’m so proud of you for your straight A report card” or “You did a great job of digging in and staying on track this semester”. Between “Wow, you made three goals” and “ I love watching you play”. Kids pay far more attention to the sub-text of what we say and do than we often realize.

Children raised on a diet of praise for talent, intelligence etc. inevitably run into issues they find difficult. A powerful subconscious fear of not being nearly perfect and letting everybody down raises its ugly head. To avoid having their sense of defined identity shaken, a pattern of resistance to and side stepping real challenges can develop.

They feel “If I try but fail everyone will know I’m not really intelligent; they’ll be let down, disappointed or contemptuous.” Fear and shame hamper their ability to tackle challenging subjects or assignments. Because these fears are driven by usually invisible ingrained subconscious beliefs, they may have devastating impacts on long term economic and emotional wellbeing as well as life satisfaction status. As this underlying fear of failure becomes entrenched and chronic, stress and anxiety levels rise and self-sabotage and procrastination may become the norm.

Those who are praised for their honest efforts regardless of how well they succeed tend to evolve a can-do attitude. They’ll face most challenges with gusto; secure in the knowledge there’s no shame in lack of perfection or even failure. The ability to face failure learn from it and move on is a critical life skill.

We all need to be able to internalize that failing or lack of perfection in a task does not equate with being a failure.

For the intelligence praise group, there are often significant health ramifications as well as emotional. It appears that the increased metabolic demands created by chronic fear, stress and struggles to move ahead despite buried negative self-protection habits, often trigger a cascade of quality of life issues. These can include a broad range of inflammatory, immune, digestive and sleep issues.

Teens and adults unfortunate enough to have been in the first group are not however doomed to a life of struggle. In my practice I use resources such as the AAMET style of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) which concentrates on quite rapidly removing the power of subconscious negative beliefs, memories and thoughts, sophisticated nutrient protocols to help compensate for the metabolic demands stress put on the body, encourage physical exercise and simple meditation. All of these can have quite powerful normalizing effects.

The fog of anxiety and hyper-reactivity to stress, sleep disorders, and the physical symptoms which are so frequently co-occurring have typically gone into remission or become much less severe. I speak also from personal experience. I was one who as a result of frequent parental assertions about my intelligence developed this chronic fear of failure with all that entailed. Ongoing use of these tools allows me to turn off the “emergency brakes” on my life.

When using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) with my clients -and myself- it’s surprising how often deep fears of failure come to the surface in highly intelligent people. Because these thoughts and memories are hidden in the subconscious, they’ve been at a loss until then to explain why they kept sabotaging themselves; despite all efforts to succeed. It’s fascinating how often seemingly minor thoughts or memories lead step by step in the course of a session to exposing and rewriting powerful subconscious limiting beliefs.

Not everyone praised frequently for being smart has noticeably been affected but it’s startling just how many highly intelligent people I’ve met who are to some degree haunted by the ghosts of compliments past. For those who are so affected self-awareness and the tools such as EFT to rewrite the subconscious programming can open the door to a different life.

Over the past decade as an Integrative therapist, I’ve found EFT to be one of my most effective tools for dealing with fear and self-sabotage. Fortunately not living near a skilled therapist need not be a problem. With the rise of internet two way video programs such as Zoom which require no experience or expertise, I and other qualified therapists find remote session to be as simple and effective as being there in person.

A note about Emotional Freedom Techniques: It’s not about freeing emotions, but rather freeing ourselves from the tyranny of negative beliefs, memories and fears; conscious such as phobias and unconscious such as self sabotage.

Question? contact:

David Gilbert
EcoSys Wellness Center


The above is not intended as medical advice. As always, consult with your physician before making changes.