Dear Margo: Over-Praising Children

Should kids be lauded for every little thing they do? Margo Howard’s advice

Over-Praising Children

Dear Margo: I know your children are grown, but are you aware of what is called “over-praising”? My kids are teenagers, but I have friends with younger children who all seem to give their kids compliments and kudos for breathing. If a kid finishes his milk when requested, the mother says, “GOOD JOB!” If the kid brings her something she’s asked for, the response is, “Wonderful!” I think there’s something wrong with this. (How about a simple “thank you”?) Why not save real praise for actual accomplishments? Whose idea was it anyway to make kids think that everything they do is praiseworthy? — Helena

Dear Hel: Funny you should mention this. I have been thinking the same thing for a long time. This overkill strikes me as ridiculous, and it makes deserved praise almost meaningless. I’m for positive reinforcement, but going overboard makes no sense. The kid will think s/he is fabulous for no reason at all and will have a rude awakening as s/he gets older and deals with all kinds of other kids — not to mention teachers.

This instilling “self-esteem” on steroids has always seemed off to me. I do not know how this kink in childrearing got started, but I do know an authority who agrees with us. Richard Weissbourd, a family psychologist at Harvard, has written at some length about this misguided development. You might be interested in steering your younger friends to his book, “The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development.” This would be far more constructive than rolling your eyes and saying, “Really?” — Margo, sensibly

Playing It Safe

Dear Margo: I wonder whether I am making something out of nothing. My 15-year-old stepson is coming to spend the rest of the summer with us, as he does each summer. This year he will bring his learner’s permit for driving practice. My husband reviewed the provisional license guidelines and realized our problem.

Seven years ago, the mother moved the children out of state after she was convicted of drunk driving and had her license suspended. We don’t know the details, but she was somehow able to renew a license in her present state (where she’d lived previously and held a license) without restrictions. She chose a parent-taught driver education program and listed herself as the parent-instructor. However, the website clearly states that one cannot qualify as an instructor if they ever have been convicted of DUI.

Do we bring this to the attention of the DMV now, before the child gets too far into his instruction? Do we ignore it and hope the lie holds up for the child’s sake? Do we allow him to practice driving here on a license that we know was obtained with fraudulent information? We struggle to know what is right in this situation. Perhaps I am too concerned with the morality of telling the truth and playing by the rules. Perhaps the DMV places too much emphasis on DUI convictions, particularly in a situation where there was no accident and no one was hurt. — Torn

Dear Torn: I don’t know what the relationship is between the exes, but your husband might tell the child’s mother that, in his opinion and in light of his knowledge of the DUI, a driver-ed course through his school would be preferable. Her rejoinder might very well be that her record is clean in her new state: a stalemate and a possible war. As for driving this summer, your husband has a great chance to do the instruction himself and somewhat moot your concerns. — Margo, compromisingly

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

77 comments so far.

  1. avatar Carib Island Girl says:

    OK. I will get crap for this, but that first letter was right on. WTF? All it does is dilute the meaning of the praise. Just like calling victims “heroes”, they aren’t heroes, they are victims, like the people who died on 9/11 in the twin towers…yes there were some bonafide heroes who saved lives at their own peril, but let’s face it, there were few. How they died is mortifying and I cry every time I see a documentary, but the are not “heroes” they are victims. It just cheapens the words.

  2. avatar wendykh says:

    LW2 is a drama queen. All that needs to be done is consult with a local attorney who can find out what happened (yes, even over state lines) and it will be fine. Further, a permit can simply be obtained under dad’s name in his state. Ridiculous.

  3. avatar Lym BO says:

    Playing It Safe

    Dear Margo: I wonder whether I am making something out of nothing.

    Yes, you are in fact.