We’ve all heard the warnings about how too much praise can go to a child’s head. And we live in a day and age when children are given ribbons for participation and awards for “best effort.” Many people claim too much praise breeds narcissism, haughtiness, and an unrealistic sense of self. If a child is constantly showered with compliments and never provided with constructive criticism, that child’s ego IS likely to suffer. However, praise, when offered effectively, can not only contribute positively to a child’s self-esteem, but it can also increase good behavior.
Praise is one of the most effective ways to influence your child’s behavior. What’s even better is that praise doesn’t require a trip to the toy store and it doesn’t cost anything. Praise, when offered in a genuine and effective manner, will not spoil a child. In fact, parents tend to focus too much on bad behavior and to overlook good behavior. Praise, when given effectively, will reinforce good behavior and increase the likelihood that this good behavior will reoccur.
Praise comes in many forms; a verbal compliment, a hug, a kiss, a high-five, and a pat on the back are just a few examples. Praise can improve your child’s self-esteem and behavior, or it can make it worse. What’s most important is the quality and the delivery of the praise. Here are a few tips on how to praise your child effectively so you get the results you want:
- HOW: Praise your child like you mean it. Use an enthusiastic tone of voice and direct eye contact (e.g. “Abby, thanks for doing the dishes… how responsible of you!”). Get excited and be genuine in your excitement. Don’t use sarcasm and don’t be passive aggressive (e.g. “Geez, it’s about time you cleaned your room”). When praising your child, do not take away from the quality of the praise by adding a disclaimer after the praise (e.g. “Awesome job taking out the trash, Sam. Now if you could only do that every time I asked…”).
- WHAT: Praise specific behaviors and offer praise in an unambiguous manner. Remember, you want the behavior you are praising to continue occurring, so be specific about what it is you want. Instead of saying only “Good job!” or “Good girl!” say, “Wow Sarah! Nice work making your bed. You did all by yourself!” Adding physical touch (a hug, gentle hand on the shoulder, etc.) can increase the strength of the praise as well.
- WHEN: Offer praise immediately following the desired behavior. The longer the delay, the less effective the praise will be. Praise should also be frequent, especially when shaping a new behavior (e.g. when your child begins potty training, sleeping independently, learning a new sport, etc.).
Remember, try to avoid frivolous, insincerely praise. Instead, catch your child being good. Look for opportunities to notice good behavior and praise it!