Don't Compliment Kids By Insulting Yourself

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By now we know that when we praise kids, we should focus less on natural ability or intelligence and more on effort. As in, “You worked so hard on that homework!” versus “You’re so smart!” But adults have another way of complimenting kids that we should also do away with—insulting our own ability by comparing it to theirs.

On Reddit, user u/Luke_7 explains:

I work in a school and often hear adults say things like, “Wow, you’re such a good artist! I can’t draw anywhere near that well,” or “You’re so good at maths, I could never do my times tables that fast.” Using phrasing like that teaches kids (or anyone) that 1. All talent is competitive—how good you are at something is defined by how much better you are than others and 2. That their success makes others feel bad about themselves, and by extension they should feel bad about others’ success.

I have probably been guilty of this because, well, I can’t draw as well as my son and he does intuitively understand maths in a way I never have. But their success is not a success because of someone else’s failure; it’s because of the effort they’ve put in. So instead, u/Luke_7 offers this improved script:

Model positive effort-based comments, like, “Wow you’re so good at art! I hope I can be that good someday if I keep practicing!” Or non-comparative positive statements, like, “Wow you’re so good at art! It’s so fun to use your imagination to make something new.”

This goes for adults, too. I can tell you how lovely your home is without mentioning what a disaster mine happens to be at the moment. Putting ourselves down to raise up others can have the unintended consequence of making everyone feel a little worse.


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