TL;DR: Is there anything wrong with praising children to their parents while the children can hear it?

From R. Kipling's "The jungle book":

‘How beautiful are the noble children! How large are their eyes! And so young too! Indeed, indeed, I might have remembered that the children of kings are men from the beginning.’

Now, Tabaqui knew as well as anyone else that there is nothing so unlucky as to compliment children to their faces. It pleased him to see Mother and Father Wolf look uncomfortable. Tabaqui sat still, rejoicing in the mischief that he had made, [...]

Is praising children so they can hear it really considered bad behaviour, or is it just based on superstition?

I can think of a situation where a parent just reprimanded a child for doing something bad, at which moment praise could be unwelcome - but other than that, it seems to me that children hearing their positive treats praised can only increase their self-esteem?

5 Answers 5


Research indicates that praise can be both negative and positive. Here is link to summary of the research on praise.

Although most of us believe praise is a positive way to get children to improve their behavior/performance while improving self esteem and motivation, a summary of the research reveals that praise can actually reduce self-motivation and cause children to become dependent upon rewards. Praise may be useful in motivating children to learn by rote, but it may actually discourage problem solving.

Effective praise requires careful thought. Following are a few suggestions indicated from research.

  • Focus on Effort
  • Be Specific
  • Be Honest
  • Offer Intermittent Praise
  • Don't use rewards

Based on research, the most important aspect of praise is giving it appropriately.

  • Good answer and interesting link. Is it wrong that I want to reward your answer with a vote up? ;-)
    – noelicus
    Nov 9, 2011 at 14:55
  • @noelicus Thank you! I will try my best to overcome the praise! lol Nov 9, 2011 at 23:31

I've actually heard the opposite, at least for younger kids. If you want to encourage a certain behavior in them then (in addition to complimenting them directly) you can tell someone else about them while the child is there listening. This makes the child proud of the behavior, and hopefully they'll want to do it again.

In older children, it may backfire if they think you're trying to manipulate them.

  • 1
    Too be fair, you are trying to manipulate them! :) Nov 15, 2012 at 18:58
  • 2
    It works with all children if the compliment is genuine and specific and NOT A MANIPULATION. Compliments and praise from parents can often be too much, but when they occasionally overhear something that is truly meant, it is often believed and taken as it is meant, so don't TRY to prevent kids from overhearing a genuine compliment, but don't use compliments as a way to get them to do something either. Take a look at listening so they'll talk and talking so they'll understand for more informaiton. Nov 17, 2012 at 3:23

Complimenting children so that they can hear it is a good thing. It boosts self-esteem, encourages confidence, etc etc.

When a child does well on a test it's good to say (to the child) things like "Well done, you put a lot of work into that, and it paid off" to emphasise that effort is important, rather than saying "My! Aren't you clever!".

  • 2
    +1 for emphasising effort over inherent ability, as backed up by research into effects of different ways of praising.
    – AdamV
    May 21, 2014 at 13:17

Praise is a wonderful motivator as long as the praise is for the "right" things. it is not so good to praise something that is inherent to the child - telling a child they are pretty, brilliant, etc. are ineffective and often can lead to conceit. However, praise can be extremely effective for helping children realize desired behaviors. Children are naturally pleasers when they are young. They seek approval of adults, and done carefully and thoughtfully, praise can help the child develop a sense of what the desired behaviors. Praise for effort is always key, but also increased praise for when the effort has resulted in truly reaching the goal. Example: I am so proud you worked hard to learn your spelling words would be appropriate regardless of the outcome, where as I am so proud you worked so hard to learn your spelling words and see how it really paid off with your great score.

Be aware though, children are amazing lie detectors and will know if you are praising them without sincerity.


If the praise is legit, it as absolutely fine to praise the kid to the parent within earshot of the parent. You can make both of them feel great.

If the praise isn't legit, then you just look like a moron to the kid and the parents, assuming the parents are past the phase of their child being the greatest child ever created.

Let's say you are at a dinner party, and the host's son plays the piano piece he is practicing for his recital next week.

Good praise
* "Johnny has improved so much since the last time I was here."
* "Johnny plays that piece better than I ever did at his age."
* "Thanks for playing; I enjoyed it."

Bad praise
* "Wow, Johnny must be the most talented kid in his class!"

Of course, grandparents are excepted from this rule. They are expected to be overflowing with praise, as well as with gifts.

  • Genuine appreciation/thanks is always great. I would take out the evaluative language (good, best, worst, bad) and then it becomes encouragement, not praise. And, help the child reflect on his own process! You won't always be around to tell him he did a good job. "You have improved so much since the last time. How were you able to do that?" Nov 15, 2012 at 18:59

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