Acknowledging without Praise

I recently came across this article written by Louise Porter, PhD, Child Psychologist. Along with many psychologists I think it is good to praise very young children (under four years) and that acknowledgment is a more respectful way to treat children once they reach the age of say 4 or 5 years of age. There are some interesting ideas in the article. It is important as parents to make your own considered and intuitive decision when you would move from praising to acknowledging your child. Read on:-

Not in praise of praise .

“ Most adults have been taught that, when we want children to develop a healthy self-esteem, we need to praise them for their behaviour or achievements. In this paper, I argue that instead we must avoid praise and replace it with acknowledgment.


Adults can prevent or repair both major causes of low self-esteem in children by giving children information about their personal skills and qualities (so that their self-concept enlarges) without, however, judging the children or their achievements. When we judge children, we raise their ideals, teach perfectionism, and consequently, risk lowering their self-esteem.

Therefore, adults need to acknowledge and celebrate children’s successes, without praising these. This form of feedback will verify the children’s own assessment that they have achieved something worthwhile, highlight their successes so that they notice these, and expand on what they have achieved – for example, by pointing out that, not only is their block tower very high but also, when it fell down, they had another go: they can persist. This feedback allows children to ‘park’ information about themselves in their self-concept.

Acknowledgment (otherwise known as informative feedback) differs from praise and other rewards (which are judgmental) in describing children’s skills and qualities – without judging these, or implying that children must continue to achieve at that standard in order to be considered worthy.

Acknowledgment differs from praise in the following ways:

1. Acknowledgment teaches children to evaluate their own efforts: ‘What do you think of that?…Was that fun?…Are you pleased with yourself?…You seem pleased that you did that so well’. In contrast, praise approves of work that meets adult standards.

2. Unlike praise, acknowledgment does not judge children or their work, although you could offer an opinion of their achievement. For example, ‘I’m impressed that you tried something new…I admire that you had another go’.

3. Acknowledgment is a private event that does not show children up in public, compare them with each other or try to manipulate other children into copying a commended child. Acknowledgment simply describes in private what the adult appreciated: ‘Thanks for sitting quietly today in group time: it helped the other children to enjoy the story’, or, ‘I appreciate that you helped pack the toys away’.

Acknowledging children’s achievements or their considerate behaviour requires no new skills on your part. It requires only the same language that you use for the adults in your life. It asks you not to patronise children but to treat them with same humanity that you would use towards a person of any age. For example, if a friend gained a promotion, you would not say, ‘Good girl’ but would congratulate her; when a friend helped you out by picking up your children from school when you were held up at work, you would not comment that she was a good friend but instead might say, ‘Thanks. I appreciate it’.


Ask children how they feel about what they have achieved: Are you pleased? What do you think of that? Are you happy with that?

When children are saying or giving nonverbal messages that they are pleased, reflect that: You look delighted! You seem very proud of yourself. You look very pleased

When appropriate, add your opinion (but not a judgment): Well, I agree with you!

Give information or feedback in the form of I-verb:

I agree that you can be very pleased with yourself. I think it’s special too I admire… I respect…I value… I’m impressed that… I appreciate… Congratulations! Hey! You did it!

Express appreciation:

Thank you!

Focus on the process, not the product:

I’m grateful that…

I appreciate that because…

I admire that you tried something new

I’m impressed that you had another go


The following examples illustrating the distinction between praise and acknowledgment avoid one-up-one-down language in which adults adopt the stance of expert with the right to judge others. Instead, acknowledgment allows children to monitor and assess their own performances. This will both allow them to develop a comprehensive picture of their own skills and qualities, and to apply their self-management skills to regulating their own behaviour.

Action: A child has helped to pack up his or her toys. Praise: You’re a good helper. Acknowledgment: Thanks for your help.  I appreciate your help.  Thanks: that’s made my job easier.  Thanks for packing away so quickly. I know you weren’t in the mood to pack up I appreciate that you did it anyway.

Action: After much effort, a child has built a tall tower of blocks.

Praise: Well done! That’s terrific!

Acknowledgment: Hey, you did it!  You look very pleased with that!  I’m impressed that you kept trying when the blocks fell over so much. I admire that you figured out that the bigger blocks had to be at the bottom.  You look very proud of that. I agree with you:


A child who has completed a painting comes to you asking comes to you asking ‘Is this good?’ while looking pleased with it.


Hey, that’s great! Good for you.


You look delighted with that!

I agree with you.

Looks like you enjoyed doing that.

It looks to me like you planned your painting very carefully.

Action: A child who has completed a painting comes to you asking painting comes to you asking ‘Is this good?’ while looking dispirited.


Hey, that’s really good. You’ve done well.


I can see you’re disappointed with it.

What don’t you like about it?

How come it didn’t turn out as you’d hoped?  Do you want to fix it, or just leave it for now?


Giving children feedback that describes their achievements, rather than judging these, gives children information about who they are, without taking that extra step of implying that they must behave in particular ways for us to value them. In this way, acknowledgment safeguards their self-esteem.”

.Porter, L. (2009). Not in praise of praise.

To learn more about building a positive self-esteem in your child, buy the book “Why Wont My Child Listen?”

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