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Do Kids Need Praise and Affection?

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From the U.S.: I am having a hard time convincing my boyfriend that his kids and my kids need positive feedback, encouragement and praise for things that they do successfully in their lives. I am aware of the phenomenon of overpraise or praise for things that don’t really warrant praise (like obeying the laws of gravity). That’s not my question.

Where the disagreement lies is as follows: he thinks things that are expected, like making one’s bed or behaving appropriately in general, aren’t worthy of praise. He basically feels that only exceptional or amazing behavior or accomplishments are worthy of encouragement or praise. Like a 5 year old that could catch a pass by a pro QB–now that is praiseworthy in his mind.

My argument is that when kids are working on mastering new or unfamiliar tasks–even just tasks they have not mastered yet, they need praise and encouragement to keep them motivated and on the right track. Even simple things like using a napkin at the dinner table to wipe your face is new to a little kid and needs to be positively recognized when they get it right. And when they don’t get it right good parents are not snarky, shaming or blaming but encouraging on how to do it right, even if it takes a 100 tries.

Being polite or cleaning up a mess; being patient or helpful to someone else or even using the correct word to describe something–to me these are all things that are worthy of positive acknowledgement in young kids–at least an “atta boy” or “I like how you shared your toy”. I don’t mean gushing over every little thing. But these are not “amazing” or “extraordinary” achievements in his mind–not really worthy of praise.

Another area where we are at odds is in showing other nurturing behaviors like hugging, giving kisses, snuggling and other affectionate gestures. He really doesn’t do these things much with his kids (lets say they are infrequent). I always thought that kids need a decent dose of these things in their lives to develop normally.

Given parenting is the most studied area of psychology there must be data on the affects of encouragement and nurturing on the development that come down solidly on one side or the other on these topics. Isn’t it better to nurture and encourage? Isn’t it detrimental to not? What’s the prevailing wisdom on this?

Do Kids Need Praise and Affection?

Answered by on -


I suspect you already know the answer. You are looking for an authority to back you up. My research and experience put me squarely in your corner. Children need encouragement like plants need the sun. You are correct, that overpraise can spoil kids. But encouragement while they are learning and acknowledgment of growing skills have been well-documented as essential to good teaching. Catching kids doing right is far more powerful and valuable to their developing sense of appropriate behavior than catching them doing wrong.

Kids also need affection and nonverbal gestures of approval in order to feel like they matter. Even monkeys provide their young with hugs and stroking and grooming. When deprived of physical affection, baby monkeys fail to thrive. Children are no different. If they don’t get enough physical attention, warmth and bonding, they are at risk of developing Reactive Attachment Disorder.

I’m concerned that the two of you are in this debate at all. I doubt very much that words from an “expert” will persuade your partner to do things differently. We need to understand why he worries that being warm and loving and encouraging will be detrimental to the children. Was he deprived of loving care as a child? Does seeing the warmth you offer to children pick at an old emotional wound? Does he think that there isn’t enough love available for him if you attend to the children’s emotional needs? Has something happened that has put you on opposite sides rather on the same team? Getting to the bottom of the issue is at least as important as deciding who is “right”.

If you find that the two of you can’t talk reasonably and sensitively about these issues, please consider seeing a therapist to help resolve the conflict. The children deserve loving parents. The two of you deserve to be out of the fight so you can take good care of the children you love.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Do Kids Need Praise and Affection?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Do Kids Need Praise and Affection?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 7, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 27 May 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.