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How to praise kids effectively

Over-the-top praise can backfire. L.I. pediatrician and author

Over-the-top praise can backfire. L.I. pediatrician and author Mary Ellen Renna recommends focusing on the effort, not the result. She will be speaking in Rockville Centre on Wednesday, Aug. 24. Credit: Fotolia

Q. If, as some parenting experts now say, parents aren’t supposed to praise their kids so much, what are they supposed to say to let their children know they’re proud of them?

A: Mary Ellen Renna, a Jericho pediatrician who has written a new book called “10 Steps to Almost Perfect Parenting” (SelectBooks, $14.95), addresses this issue in the first chapter, which instructs parents to “stop telling your kids they’re so special.”

It’s not that you shouldn’t praise them, Renna says. It’s just that you shouldn’t be using blanket statements such as, “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world” or “You’re the best soccer player ever.” That backfires, she says, causing an emotional letdown for them when they realize they’re just like every other kid, Renna says.

Instead, praise the process. If they do well on a test, instead of saying, “You’re so smart,” say, “I love how you studied so hard.” If they come home with an art project, don’t say, “This is so beautiful, I love it.” Say instead, “I love how you thought about the colors you used in this picture.” If they excel in a sport, say, for instance, “I love how you practice soccer.”

“You want to praise the things that you want them to repeat,” Renna says. “You praise the process of what they did, you praise how they got there.”

Renna will talk about this issue as well as other topics she covers in her book — including teaching kids how to solve problems and allowing them to fail — at a free book talk and signing open to the public at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, at Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine, 110 N. Park Ave, Rockville Centre. For more information, call the store at 516-764-6000 or visit

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