The Power of Praise: A Guide for Parents to Boost Positive Behaviour in Children


The Power of Praise: A Guide for Parents to Boost Positive Behaviour in Children

In the hustle and bustle of parenting, parents often underestimate the impact of praise and social rewards, like hugging their children. It's easy to overlook those moments when children play quietly or complete tasks without fuss. What happens then is that parents ‘expect’ children to behave in that way at all times without any input from them. Or sometimes the praise is only reserved for exceptionally good deeds or exceptional behaviour or like getting an “A” in their test. 

Parents have said that they don’t see why they should praise their children for what they’re expected to do and with that mindset, they forget to praise their children when they're playing quietly or doing jobs without moaning. 

However, research suggests that neglecting to acknowledge and praise children for their appropriate behaviour may lead to undesirable outcomes. Children crave attention, and praising them is a powerful way to build connection and foster positive behaviour.

Praise and encouragement play a crucial role in helping children take small steps towards acquiring new skills. By integrating praise into everyday routines, such as acknowledging a completed task, like brushing teeth or a well-behaved play session, parents can boost their child's confidence and motivation to do the next task in their routine, then the next…and so on. 

The key is to catch your child being good and reinforce positive behaviours immediately through verbal praise or hugs. With encouragement and breaking down of difficult tasks, children will follow through and finish difficult tasks.  

To make praise effective, it should be specific and timely. Children have short attention spans, so waiting too long to acknowledge their actions might diminish the impact. Research has shown that adults who don't know how or want to give praise or encouragement to children maybe also didn't receive it when they were younger. So perhaps the words might seem awkward or artificial, and maybe you just don't know which behaviours to praise. 

Parents can learn effective praise techniques, enhancing their ability to connect with and motivate their children positively. Here some guidelines:

1) Catch Your Child Being Good: Recognise and praise small steps toward positive behaviour, rather than waiting for perfection. Don't save praise for that perfect behaviour because when a child is learning a new technique, they are going to take the small steps and each small step needs to be acknowledged and praised. And the only way that your child is going to learn to engage in a really particular difficult behaviour is having that behaviour reinforced, so if it's acknowledged by the parents, then it's more likely to occur again.

2) Avoid Spoiling Through Praise: Parents sometimes worry that if they praise their children it may lead to spoiling them. Children are not spoiled by praise. Children motivated solely by external approval may lack self-esteem and seek approval or demand a reward before they comply with a request. Instead, encourage intrinsic motivation by praising effort and specific behaviours.

3) Praise Difficult Children: Even challenging behaviour contains moments of positivity. Acknowledge and praise the good behaviour to encourage more positive actions. You might think, well, that's a little bit counterproductive. But a child’s behaviour is their communication. Parents may not feel like praising their child but the child is showing you that they need help. So it's up to the parents to stop this stalemate situation and use praise. Catch them being good. If a child is misbehaving 90 percent of the time, then it is also true that they are doing something right for 10% of the time - find that 10% and praise them and you'll find that actually, with consistency, that behaviour will improve.

4) Provide Labelled and Specific Praise: Be explicit about what behaviour you're praising to help children understand and internalise positive feedback. Avoid saying “good girl” or “good boy” - but rather say, “I love how you are sharing” or “I can see you put so much effort in your homework tonight” - so the child knows exactly what you are praising them for (so they can do it again to be praised by you). It’s also really helpful for children to see praise being modelled by the adults around them. Remember, anything you talk about becomes your child’s inner voice. So the more positive you are with your praise, the more they're going to praise themselves, which increases their self-esteem and their confidence. 

5) Make Praise Contingent on Behaviour: Another guideline is to make praise contingent on behaviour, so what do I mean by that? No good behaviour should be taken for granted, otherwise it will disappear. Connect praise to specific behaviours to reinforce positive actions consistently. Making it contingent on behaviour means that you are giving attention and praise to the behaviour that you want to see so that it increases. However, a lack of praise - and giving attention for the inappropriate behaviour will begin to increase the inappropriate behaviour. Children are not difficult on purpose usually, children want to please you, so always praise with smiles, eye contact and enthusiasm, really build them up and give positive praise. When you've given a bit of praise, don't then take it away by saying, “I really like the way you shared with your brother. Not like the last time where I had to tell you off.” No, keep it positive because then, they will tend to remember the negative and that will play on their mind. Always give little pats and hugs and kisses along with the verbal praise because that enhances their behaviour and creates a positive association. Consistency is key.

6) Always Praise Positively: Maintain a positive tone and avoid mixed messages. Don't diminish praise by referencing past negative behaviours.

7) Praise in Front of Others: Amplify the impact of praise by acknowledging your child's positive actions in front of family, friends, or siblings. For example, you might say, to the child’s dad or to a friend or to an older sibling. “Oh, look at him, he's doing amazingly well. He's really learned how to cooperate so nicely and he’s really listening so nicely to everything that's been said."

By following these guidelines, parents can unleash the transformative power of praise, creating a positive and motivating environment for their children.

Want to try out praise with your children? Find more strategies for praise and 4 other secrets to a happy and harmonious home in my online course, How To Create An Emotionally Safe Home.

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