page contents

Embrace Praise  

A few months ago the Monitor, the American Psychological Association’s professional magazine, published an article about ways to improve parenting.  They offered seven parenting techniques and strategies that were supported by research findings.  I will present them here over the next seven months.

The first strategy is to incorporate praise.  At the simplest level, children tend to do whatever their parents pay attention to, whether that attention is positive or negative.  Positive attention is clearly better so praising children for the things you like will help them do those things more often.  Nagging, criticizing or saying “don’t” over and over can actually increase children’s negative behavior simply by paying attention to it.

To make praise even more effective, be specific about what is being praised.  For instance, “I really like the way you were able to sit and focus on your homework” is stronger praise than “You did a good job with your homework.”  Researchers call this “labeled praise” and the linking of specific feedback to praise is particularly effective in influencing children’s behavior.  Emphasizing the praise with an expression of emotion like a smile or a friendly touch also serves to make the praise more effective.

Praise should also be honest.  Sometimes parents get so focused on self-esteem they dish praise out pretty indiscriminately.  That sets up unreasonable expectations for recognition in children that won’t serve them well in the real world.   It also often shields them from experiences that help them learn to tolerate frustration and failure, skills which are very important in life.  So be generous with your praise, but make sure the praise is honest and deserved.

Next month we will talk about the flip side of praise. 

Previous                                                                               Next