If you are flooding your children with over-exaggerated flattery in an effort to boost low self-esteem, you could be hurting rather than helping.  That's according to a new study which finds that children who lacked confidence shied away from tough tasks after receiving hyped praise from their parents.

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"I think what it comes down to is timing," said Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown. "If parents praise before a behavior or before an act, what they are doing is setting their child up for potential failure especially in kids who have low self-esteem. If you're telling them they are really smart and it's not related to a specific behavior, now the child has something to lose."

In the study from the journal Psychological Science, researchers videotaped parents, tallying how often they gave exaggerated compliments if they believed their child suffered with low self-esteem. They discovered that parents often gave more praise if they knew their child lacked confidence. In another test, children were asked to draw either a simple picture or a more difficult one. Children with lower confidence chose the easier task if they got excessive praise, but they were more likely to choose the tougher one if they received simple, positive feedback.

If the child is praised after a behavior, or after they have succeeded at something and that flattery is sincere, it is much more effective and can boost self-esteem, according to Tobias.

"Self-esteem doesn't happen in a vacuum. You can't just feel good about yourself. You have to have a reason to feel good about yourself. You have to have done something, accomplished something and put effort, energy and succeeded at something to really feel good about yourself," Tobias said.