You probably think your kids are pretty great. Actually, you should think your kids are pretty great. After all, you raised them, and you love them. But how can you tell your kids they're great without it going to their heads?

As parents, we want our kids to feel confident and "comfortable in their own skin," but praising our kids the wrong way sets our children up for shallow self-esteem, leading to underachievement. It seems counterintuitive, but kids who receive praise for their character often avoid challenging opportunities because they're afraid of failure. It's a big blow to think you're wonderful and then prove yourself wrong.

However, this doesn't mean you should quit complimenting your kids. When you hand out compliments the right way, kids develop a strong sense of self, firmly grounded in their strengths and weaknesses. The type of compliments you give depends on your child, but all good compliments share these four traits.

1. Good compliments are specific

When you tell your kids you think they're fabulous, wonderful and perfect, that doesn't give your children any useful feedback for future behavior. When you compliment your child, pick a specific behavior and say what you liked about it. Here are some examples:

  • "Thanks for being nice," becomes, "Thanks for reading books to your little brother.

  • "You had a great report card," becomes, "Good job getting an 'A' on your last math test."

  • "Nice game tonight," becomes, "Your jump shot was really good tonight."

2. Good compliments focus on behavior, not character

Most compliments should focus on things our kids do and not who you feel they are. Kids act consistently with their labels, even when they don't feel authentic. Avoid type-casting your kid and focus more attention on the things he does well. Here's how:

  • "You're so smart," becomes, "You're really good at studying for tests."

  • "You're a sweet kid," becomes, "It was sweet when you comforted your sister."

  • "You're a natural athlete," becomes, "You've really stepped it up in soccer this year."

3. Good compliments encourage effort instead of outcome

When we compliment our kids' outcomes, we make them afraid of failure. When we compliment our kids' efforts, we teach them they are capable of tackling hard tasks. Complimenting effort is the surest way to develop intrinsic motivationin kids. Here are some examples of what it looks like to compliment effort rather than outcome:

  • "You played well at your recital," becomes, "You worked really hard on that piece, and it paid off tonight."

  • "I love that you're a good writer," becomes, "I love that you finished your English essay well before the deadline so you could edit it to perfection."

  • "You're lucky to have so many friends," becomes, "Your willingness to think of others makes you a great friend."

4. Good compliments are sincere

Kids spot false compliments. They understand when they get a pity participation trophy or a hollow pat on the back, and it doesn't help them develop their strengths. All kids have their strengths and weaknesses, so make sure you're encouraging the things that will take your child furthest in life. For example:

  • "The referees were unfair. It's not your fault," becomes, "Basketball is tough for you, but I appreciate that you played your hardest the entire game."

  • "No one noticed that you messed up your solo a little. It was still great," becomes, "It took a lot of courage to keep going, and I'm proud of you for staying up there."

  • "You still got a better grade than some of your classmates," becomes, "You're great at studying, and I know that, if you work hard, your next grade will improve."

Giving our kids support and encouragement does not mean giving them false hope or filling them full of shallow praise. Your kids need your sincere, meaningful and specific compliments daily. Do it right, and your kids will become confident, not conceited.

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