Why we need to rethink how we give praise for ‘stronger’, more resilient kids – according to a Harvard-trained parenting expert

An expert shares her technique for helping children thrive

Portrait of a beautiful cheerful family with two young children, spending quality time together in their home
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Focusing on effort and not outcome and being a “strength spotter”, is a great technique for raising confident and resilient children, according to a Harvard-qualified parenting expert. 

All parents will have different praising techniques for their children, whether it’s taking note of the Swedish secret to raising happy and resilient kids or trying one of these methods from a Norland nanny. But, there’s a type of praise you should be avoiding if you want to raise happy and successful kids, apparently. 

Picture this scenario: your child comes home from school and tells you that they scored well on a spelling test. You praise them and say how proud you are of them – you may even reward them with a little treat. 

That’s all well and good, but according to toxic parenting expert Jennifer Breheny Wallace, there’s a better way to go about giving praise. 

Instead of highlighting specific achievements, Jennifer (who’s also the author of Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic and What We Can Do About It), advises that you praise the characteristics that helped get them there. 

Why? Well, Jennifer says by noticing and acknowledging others’ strengths in a positive way, you’ll make your children feel like they are worthy and truly matter. 

For example, if they score highly on a test, you could praise them for their perseverance and dedication. Or, if they’ve made a new friend at school, you could praise them for their kindness and generosity. 

We know that changing to this tactic is easier said than done – and Jennifer agrees. She told CNBC Make It: “We think it is our job to improve on our kids’ weaknesses but, really, [it’s] to be, in the words of researchers, “a strength spotter” and really seeing our kids’ strengths so that we can reinforce the good in them and not be so fixated on the negative.”

To help you figure out what to say, Jennifer encourages families to take the VIA Character Strengths Survey – a free tool to discover your best qualities and using them to your strengths. 

Playing to individual strengths is like a triple threat for your child: it could help to boost confidence, increase happiness and accomplish goals. 

“Discussing the results as a family can help you identify and talk about the ways your kids embody specific strengths on a daily basis,” explains Jennifer.

Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teachers for their opinion too, as they’ll be used to recognising strengths and giving praise.

In other parenting news, this TikTok nanny reveals the four toys she would never buy children for Christmas and David Beckham's Lego obsession is the mindful parenting trick you didn't know you needed. 

Daniella Gray
Family News & Wellbeing Writer

From building healthy family relationships to self-care tips for mums and parenting trends - Daniella also covers postnatal workouts and exercises for kids. After gaining a Print Journalism BA Hons degree and NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, Daniella started writing for Health & Wellbeing and co-hosted the Walk to Wellbeing podcast. She has also written for Stylist, Natural Health, The Sun UK and Fit & Well. In her free time, Daniella loves to travel, try out new fitness classes and cook for family and friends.