KiDLAB studies the nature and consequences of praise in parents, teachers, and children. Why do parents, teachers, and other caregivers lavish children with praise? Why does such well-intentioned praise sometimes undercut—rather than boost—children’s motivation, self-esteem, and academic achievement? And how can we praise children in ways that benefit them?

Modern parents and teachers often feel responsible for their children’s self-esteem and motivation. While they are not wrong that their words and actions are consequential, their ideas about how to instill self-esteem and motivation may sometimes be misguided. In the past few decades, much of the burden of instilling self-esteem and motivation has been placed on the practice of praising children. Indeed, it seems quite intuitive that saying positive things about children—about what they have done and what their qualities are—would make them feel good about themselves and would motivate them to take on challenges and persist in the face of setbacks. Often, however, praise fails to work as intended and may even cause harm. Our work has shown that inflated praise may undermine motivation and self-esteem, and that children with low self-esteem—who seem most in need of praise—are most susceptible to these harmful effects.

This work received support from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), European Union’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Research Priority Area YIELD, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

Key Publications

Brummelman, E., Grapsas, S., & Van der Kooij, K. (2022). Parental praise and children’s exploration: A virtual reality experiment. Scientific Reports12, 4967. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-08226-9[open data, open materials] [a video showcasing the study]

Brummelman, E. (Ed.) (2020). Psychological perspectives on praise. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780429327667

Brummelman, E., Nelemans, S. A., Thomaes, S., & Orobio de Castro, B. (2017). When parents’ praise inflates, children’s self-esteem deflates. Child Development, 88, 1799–1809. doi:10.1111/cdev.12936

Brummelman, E., Crocker, J., & Bushman, B. J. (2016). The praise paradox: When and why praise backfires in children with low self-esteem. Child Development Perspectives, 10, 111–115. doi:10.1111/cdep.12171

Brummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Orobio de Castro, B., Overbeek, G., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). “That’s not just beautiful—that’s incredibly beautiful!”: The adverse impact of inflated praise on children with low self-esteem. Psychological Science, 25, 728–735. doi:10.1177/0956797613514251