How Can I Praise One Child Without Making the Other Feel Bad?

By Mark Griffin

My daughter is in fifth grade and my son is in third grade. He has dyslexia. She doesn’t. I know self-esteem is really important. How can I praise each of my kids without making the other child feel bad?

Mark Griffin

Founding Headmaster, Eagle Hill School

My first bit of advice is to focus more on the quality of the praise you’re giving each of your children rather than the quantity. Usually siblings don’t notice the quantity of praise unless it’s heavily skewed toward one child. But siblings do notice the sincerity of the praise they receive.

Try to make sure your tone of voice and your excitement level are reasonably consistent. Children can often tell when you’re stretching to praise something that’s not really good.

How can you give honest praise to both of your kids when one of them is struggling in many areas and the other child isn’t? You can praise your children’s efforts. Movement toward a goal is just as praiseworthy as the finished product.

Celebrate the process. Your child with dyslexia may need a bit more of this approach than your other child.

For example, you might say to your third-grader, “I liked the way you sounded out the words that were new for you in your homework. You really are using the method Mrs. Anderson taught you about how to read new or unfamiliar words. It seems like this method will make this kind of homework less frustrating. That’s great!”

You can also engineer some successes. When assigning chores or organizing family activities, look for things that each of your children has a good chance of completing successfully. This is especially important to do for a child who is struggling with academics.

It’s also important to praise your children as often as possible for doing something together. Make it a point to praise them when they’re managing to be with each other and enjoy what they’re doing collaboratively.

For example, you might say, “It’s so good to see you two playing that new game together. There hasn’t been one single argument. Way to go!”

Try to catch your children being nice to each other. Praise them for even the smallest acts of kindness. Be precise. And look for ways to praise one child for helping without diminishing the other child’s role: “I like that you helped your brother with the tough part of the Lego project he was working on. He finished it on time, did a good job and you made it easier for him to see how the parts connected.”

By focusing on each of your children’s strengths and their ability to work together, you can make both of them feel appreciated. Learning more about the best kind of praise can help you build each child’s self-esteem and ease sibling resentment.

About the Author

Portrait of Mark Griffin

Mark Griffin

Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a Connecticut boarding and day school for children with specific learning disabilities.

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