Joyful Parenting Tool: Effective Praise
You’ve heard a lot about praise. It’s a cornerstone of most parent’s daily routine. And with a few minor tweaks, you can substantially boost the impact of your praise. How good is that?
The foundation of most evidence-based parenting approaches is to increase the positive bond between caregivers and children. Both CBT Parent Management Training and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy builds this foundation with strategies for praise that really work to increase positive behaviors all while improving your child's self esteem and increasing the warmth in your relationship. Here’s what the experts agree makes for the most effective praise:
Be really specific. We want to praise specific behaviors. “Good job!” sounds lovely, but doesn’t provide any information to your child about what it is you are pleased about. “Good job shutting the door gently!” is much more effective.
Find the Positive Opposite of behaviors you’d like to see change (more on this here!). Think of praise like a spot light: we’re shining attention on a specific behavior. Calling attention to a behavior with praise will increase how often you see this behavior. Sometimes it’s easier to think of the behaviors we want to eradicate (for example, interrupting). Once we’ve identified that, we can think of what we’d like to see instead (waiting to talk until mom is off the phone) and shine that Praise Spotlight on this behavior in a very intentional way.
Focus on effort at least as much as outcomes: Praise things like: persistence, bravery, trying your best, not giving up, etc. When we praise based on efforts rather than achievements, we see more of the values we’re reinforcing. We also let kids know they have intrinsic value outside of their accomplishments. This builds the foundation for a resilient child who can survive setbacks without falling apart.
Some pitfalls to avoid:
Backwards compliments: I know it’s tempting but a “wow, see how nice it is when you eat your lunch without whining THE WHOLE TIME?”, isn’t actually a super effective form of praise. The (not so subtly) hidden content is actually a criticism. A “wow, it’s so fun to eat with you when you’re using a happy voice!” is going to get you a lot further in the long run.
Labeling the child instead of the behavior: Another tempting one, but a “good girl!” is just not gonna cut it. First of all, it doesn’t pass the “be specific test” from above. Secondly, we want our kids to develop an understanding that they make choices (good and bad) and that their identities are separate from those choices and behaviors. We all make mistakes, but this doesn’t mean we’re all “bad”.
“Buts”: When we say “but”, whatever came first no longer matters. Tell me “nice work on that presentation, but you had typos in your PowerPoint” and I don’t hear the “nice work”, just the criticism. Similarly, a “nice job including your brother, but you didn’t clean up the Legos” doesn’t count as praise, my friends. When in doubt, switch the “but” with an “and”: “I’m really proud of you for including your brother, and I need you to clean up the Legos now”. More on the magic of “and” here.
You are so good at praising your children! And you can do it even better and see more behavior changes when you follow these guidelines. See what I did there? Set forth and praise away.