How Much Praise for Well-Being?


Five Servings

How much praise does it take to increase a child’s self-esteem? According to Dr. Carol Sutton of De Montfort University, in Leicester, UK, five praises can increase well-being and improve behavior for children. 1 It can, of course, be less, but Dr. Sutton chose five to resemble nutrition studies suggesting five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Five Praises Campaign

This was the concept behind the “Five Praises campaign,” started by the De Montfort University’s Unit for Parenting Study. They have even created a chart for following parents’ praises of children. 2

Specific, Effort-Based Praise

We stress the power of specific praise in our Group Home programs. “Nothing grows behavior more—in adults or children—than specific praise. We ask our staff to become “masters of specific praise”, while also attending to Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck’s guidelines of effective praise; to focus on effort-based praise rather than ability-based.3 Ability-Based praise usually focuses on a child’s natural talents for example, “You are such a good writer.” The result can often backfire as children grow to feel anxious about not writing something exceptional and begin to avoid writing at all. Effort-based praise would focus on the work the child puts into the task of writing. “You worked really hard writing that story and your efforts have paid off. Good work!”

As Dweck herself puts it, “These findings suggest that when we praise children for their intelligence, we are telling them that this is the name of the game: Look smart; don’t risk making mistakes. On the other hand, when we praise children for the effort and hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process. They are not diverted from the task of learning by a concern with how smart they might—or might not—look.” 3

Well-Being, Not Self-Esteem

I also like that the De Montfort University study focuses on well-being and not self-esteem. Self-esteem does not always lead to healthy behaviors, with some studies (and my own personal observations) indicating that youth involved in gangs often have the highest self-esteem among teenagers. In a 1996 article from the Psychological Review, authors Roy F. Baumeister, Laura Smart and Joseph M. Boden stated, “…the major cause of violence is high self-esteem combined with an ego threat.” 4

A fair bit of humility is healthy in any human being as long as we differentiate between humility and being humiliated. Humility is a choice we make and humiliation is usually something forced upon us. Rick Warren in “A Purpose Driven Life” stated, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” 5

A challenge I give every staff I work with is to reduce their use of sarcasm and replace it with praise. The chart from the Five Praises Campaign is simple and—though I’m on vacation now—I want to find a way to apply it in each of our Group Homes.


1 This Is How Much Praise Kids Really Need, AMANDA MACMILLAN May 11, 2017, Time Health, 

2 Praise Chart,

3 Caution—Praise Can Be Dangerous, Carol S. Dweck, American Educator, Spring 1999, American Federation of Teachers,

4 Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression: The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem, Roy F. Baumeister, Laura Smart, Joseph M. Boden, Psychological Review, 1996, Vol. 103, No 1, 5-33,[1].pdf 

5 The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren, Zondervan, 2002




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