I love this topic, because children so often hear something entirely different than what we are meaning to say. They also remember every word and hold us to what we say, so we need to be thoughtful in the words we choose. I broke it down into five types of compliments that we need to think carefully before we use:
Children should be judged on their own merits, not on how they compare to other children. This type of compliment may leave the child feeling second-rate:
"You're almost as smart as your brother!"
"You're doing a great job keeping up with your homework. I appreciate the good grades.
It's really important to use sparingly compliments that pertain to unimportant things. I hear parents and grandparents (and others) say too often to a child, "You are so pretty/handsome!" While it is important to hear that on special occasions, it is one quality that could be taken away at any moment. It is vital for children to know that they are so much more than a pretty face. As an alternative, these are some compliments on characteristics that can last, will benefit others, and are of eternal value:
"You are such a good helper."
"I like how you think good things about other people."
"You make me laugh, and I love to laugh."
"You have a lot of good ideas."
Compliments are important. A father once told me, "If I compliment my wife or children, they'll stop trying." What a sad, false commentary. I have found that, generally, compliments given thoughtfully give children landmarks that let them know they are on a good path - one that they should stay on. So, think first, and then give praise liberally but thoughtfully.