Giving children positive feedback is a great way to encourage children to do their best. Praise is for behaviour that you would like to see more of. This works best when your praise comes from a place of respect and connection. Here are some ideas on how parents can use praise to guide their youngsters towards positive behaviour.
Focus on actions and decisions.
Parents naturally want to praise children for having good character: kindness, intelligence, strength, creativity. Instead, try mentioning the action and decision they made. For example: “well done for noticing that your classmate forgot their lunch and sharing with them, that was very kind of you”.
Praise effort and hard work.
Children who only get praised for achievements will focus more on immediate rewards, and are more likely to give up if they think they might fail. Try praising effort instead: “I see you’re working really hard on this jigsaw, well done!” Children who are praised for their efforts are likely to try hard in future, and to not give up when things go wrong. This will encourage their persistence and ability to stick with difficult tasks.
Make praise specific.
Saying “good job,” even if the child feels disappointed, is a bit too vague for children to grasp. We need to describe what was positive about the behaviour for example you did a great job putting your toys in the box, putting your clothes in the wash basket etc. Moreover, children are naturally competitive, so it is important to help them see their progress. . Some goals take time, and children can easily lose interest. To keep motivation up, try praising the progress they have made. This can help children see how they have improved over time. For example: “wow, you are playing so much faster now than you were last month!”
Be honest when you praise.
Children can pick up on signs that their parents are just trying to make them feel good. If you overdo it, children might not feel they deserve it. By contrast, honest praise works better, because it is more credible. It means the world to children and makes them feel connected and encouraged.
Talk about how their hard work made you feel.
Introducing talk about your own feelings can make praise more meaningful. For instance, instead of saying “you did a great job,” try “I’m proud of you”. A self-critical child can debate the facts (e.g. I didn’t win the race), but it’s a lot harder to argue with how they made you feel. This again will foster a sense of connection and warmth.
This article was contributed by Oisín Carey, Assistant Psychologist with Limerick Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service, and a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations. For more information on this and other topics go to www.loveparenting.ie.