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What’s the Best Way to Compliment a Kid?

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March 29, 2017

When I see kids, I always try to greet them with a cheerful hello and some sort of conversation starter, usually a compliment.  I typically say something like, “Oh don’t you look pretty/handsome today. I like your shirt/dress/bow/tie.” I believe in empowering kids, and an ad recently made me reconsider how I greet the kids I see  In fact, I’ve changed my approach entirely.

You may have seen these ads for girls dresses online: the dresses feature Pi signs, trains, insects, and dinosaurs. I love them! But a comment on one of the ads gave me pause. One mother says, “People talk to my daughter differently when she wears these dresses.” Instead of telling a girl she looks pretty, people notice the unusual themes and talk about those instead.

Learning about Growth Mindset also made me rethink what I say to the kids in my life. Compliments that focus on how a child is rather than what a child does can cause kids to have a static self-perception and discourage them from trying something new or taking risks. The goal is to validate effort over results. Generally, sentences that start with “you are” could be more productive if rephrased.

My favorite piece of advice on the best way to praise children is to focus on what you can observe. Talk about details of a project, specific achievements, decisions the child made, hard work they applied, or the process used to reach a goal. If you emphasize specific details, your compliments will be more meaningful.

Here’s my sample list for appropriate compliments for kids:

On Appearance:

The colors on your shirt/dress are so bright! It’s like you brought the sunshine inside with you.

You have a [animal] on your shirt. Is it a friendly [animal]?

Did you do your hair/pick out your clothes today? I like how you _______________.

On Schoolwork

You really thought about that answer!

You took time to really understand the question/project/etc.

I like that you used what you already knew to think about the answer.

You showed a lot of creativity when you _____________________.

On Character

That took a lot of time and focus! I’m so proud that you kept working at it.

You showed _______________ kindness when you _________________.

You made such a good decision when you ______________________________.

Thoughtful compliments not only encourage children, but reinforce their best qualities.

I’d love to hear your advice on complimenting kids!

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