Schoolchildren play in the courtyard of their primary school. Picture: The Washington Post. Kugler family photo

London - We’re told to praise children so they will shine.

But a study shows heaping compliments on children with low self-esteem makes them feel under pressure to perform and so they avoid challenges.

The study’s authors, from British, Dutch and US universities, looked at how adults praise children and found that while it’s natural for parents to want to praise timid children more, it actually backfires.

Some 240 boys and girls aged eight to 12 answered questions designed to rate their self-confidence. They were asked to copy a painting. The unconfident children were lavished with praise while the confident ones got measured appraisal.

They were then asked to copy more pictures and told some were more difficult. The unconfident children who got lavish praise were more likely to plump for the easy pictures than when they got measured appraisal. But the confident children rose to the challenge of being told they did well.

In the journal Psychological Science, researcher Eddie Brummelman said: ‘If you tell a child with low self-esteem that they did incredibly well, they may think they always need to do incredibly well.

‘They may worry about meeting these high standards and decide not to take on any new challenges.’