Praise Effort Instead of Product When Discussing Children's Art

Child's hand with paint brush

When young children are creating art, it’s important for child care providers to remember to praise effort instead of product. Praising the product is very tempting. It’s easy to say, “I love your beautiful painting!” without really thinking about the words. Unfortunately, there are several ways that your well-meaning praise can go wrong.

How Can Praise Be Negative?

Child care providers may praise children’s artwork to help increase their self-esteem. Unfortunately, children sometimes misinterpret teachers’ praise. Here are some common misunderstandings.

  • Children may expect praise every time they create something.
  • Children may stop forming their own opinions of their artwork and depend instead on the teacher’s feedback.
  • Children whose work is not praised may think you don’t like their art and decide they are not good artists.
  • Children may stop being creative and start creating what they think you will like.

Here’s a simple example. Guess what happened when a teacher said, “Oh, look how pretty Karen’s painting of a house turned out?” Not surprisingly, many other children tried to copy Karen’s idea and style to win the teacher’s praise instead of using their own creativity.

Praise Effort Instead of Product

The best way to give children feedback is to praise effort instead of the product. Help children recognize how hard they worked and encourage them to be proud of their accomplishments.

You might say something like:

  • “Karen, you are working so long and hard to get it just the way you want it.”
  • “Josie, when you mix blue and red together, you create a new color.”
  • “Tia, you glued those leaves on so carefully. Look at that special design.”
  • “Roberto, when you roll play dough like that, it becomes really long.”
  • “Angela, you had some great ideas for that puppet. I know you are going to enjoy using it with your friends.”

Changing how you talk with children about their artwork takes thought and practice. But teachers who intentionally praise children’s effort and involvement rather than the product of their artwork are helping support and encourage the children’s creativity, thinking skills and sense of self-worth.

For More Information

To learn more about young children’s art, check out our  section on Art in Child Care, or take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

For specific art activity ideas to use in your child care program, check out the database of Hands-On Activities for Child Care