The Power of Praise

I imagine that many of us are not terribly good at receiving praise. We may deflect it by saying something like: “It was really a team effort” or “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time”. Whilst this might be the ‘modest’ response, I have learnt how important it is to graciously and gratefully accept praise when it is clearly genuinely meant for me. The thoughtful person who has wanted to praise me actually doesn’t want his or her encouragement to be embarrassedly brushed off!

We can all remember how much the appropriate few words have meant to us and how they have made us feel when perhaps we have lacked confidence or needed affirmation or simply cheering up; we thrive on praise. By contrast, we can no doubt also recall as children how much poorly timed criticism or a public ‘put-down’ hurt us or knocked our self-esteem – however well it was intended!

As a teacher, I have sometimes had to urge a parent not to be so harsh on their son or daughter. Yes, we all want the best for our children, yet we should try to value them for who they are, not to compare them unfavourably with a sibling or a friend and not to expect the impossible. They naturally want to please us as parents and teachers, and we don’t want them to conclude that their best is never good enough.

I am not advocating that we should never offer constructive criticism or guidance! It’s important to be realistic and to help our children to improve. And we all need to develop the humility to receive advice alongside praise, and to learn from it. Some of the best advice I have received in the past has initially felt quite bruising, but I have later come to realise how much that person cared in telling me the truth and how much I was ultimately helped by it.

Praise used libly or too frequently becomes empty praise. I hope we can all help our children to become the best possible version of themselves through positive encouragement, heart-felt praise and wise and sensitive criticism.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote:

“Reprends l’ami en secret et loue-le en public.”

“Reprove your friend in secret and praise him in public.”


Best wishes

John Watson
Headmaster and Principal