We have all heard the advice to praise kids more. However, that requires some clarification. We need to communicate clearly to our children what it is we like about what they are doing when they are doing it. This helps to “connect the dots” between the desired behavior and what our expectations are. As busy as we all are, we can forget that feedback is helpful, especially when you want someone to repeat a behavior again.
It is easier to focus on what has not been done, what has been done wrong or what needs to be done quicker. Notice also how when we focus on the negative, it often is done with raised voices because we are frustrated, angry, or disappointed.
Yet, these are exactly the times when we can make use of a teachable moment. We can instead turn it around to help our children understand what it is we want them to do by using praise.
What do I mean by praise? Not simply issuing a generic or vague statement, such as “good job!” or “wow!”To be as effective as possible, make sure praise is SPECIFIC and IMMEDIATE. This is especially helpful when giving praise to a younger child or a child with ADHD. By communicating exactly what it is you liked when your child completes a task or behavior, you are letting children know that you notice them and their actions. This, in turn, will help children feel good about themselves, about the choice they made or the way in which they acted. When children feel especially proud or receive positive attention, they are more likely to have a repeat performance.
This is how praise can be so powerful. Yet, it is woefully underutilized and overlooked as a way to help shape behavior.
This, however, doesn’t mean to praise everything and go over the top. In order for praise to be effective, you need to use it appropriately and with genuine feeling. Kids can often see through praise that is given just because or praise that may even end up not being true, “You are the smartest kid I know!” Praise when delivered right can be a powerful motivator to help give kids the extra boost they need to keep going with challenging or multi-step tasks. Praise can help them see that they are capable and competent, help them see we value their contributions.
Sometimes parents may feel praise is phony or should not be used for tasks or chores that just should be done. However, children often need guidance to understand what is expected of them. When parents use praise for making an effort or for compliance with a request right when we ask or without argument, it helps children keep going and to try to be the best they can be.
We all like to be recognized for efforts in our work, in our homes and in our relationships. It reminds us that someone else values us for who we are and what we do. Who doesn’t thrive on little reminders?
Below are a set of handouts (in English and in Spanish) on the basic principles of PRAISE that can be used when counseling families about the importance of this tool.
Click here for the English handout.*
Click here for the Spanish handout.*
*Please retain copyright in the lower right hand corner.
Note: I always welcome comments on the handouts in general, its utility and any feedback you receive from parents.
Awesome advice!! I love the examples you used! This may be a completely separate issue, but stems from parents trying to give well-meaning feedback: What is your advice on when parents tell their children they are “the best”, “the kindest”, “the smartest”…etc?
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We recommend not using superlatives as praise. They end up being exaggerated praise and one day the child may realize it is not true. Instead, focus on the behavior or action. For example, “you worked really hard on that drawing. You look proud!” Or “when you saw your friend was sad you gave her a hug. You are being a good friend”
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