Praise is a crucial aspect of effective discipline. When parents praise their children, they identify behaviors they like and encourage those behaviors to continue. In this way, praise helps increase the behavior we desire to see in our children. It can motivate our children to grow and mature. To prove truly effective, however, praise must follow four simple guidelines. So, to make praise a positive, effective motivator in your child’s life, follow these simple guidelines.
1. Praise your child for their effort. Focus on the process rather than the end product. Praise them for their persistence in working toward a goal, not just the final accomplishment. Recognize their hard work, even if they lose the game. Acknowledge their concentration in the face of distraction and thank them for listening so well to directions (not just following them). By praising your children’s efforts, you help them learn about the parts of the task they can control. You give them the gift of self-control. You teach them that effort, persistence, and concentration are more important than the appearance of success. And, you instill a joy in those attributes over which they have control–their determination to persist, their dedication to effort, their ability to concentrate. These qualities are within their control and the foundation for overcoming setbacks and finding ultimate success.
2. Keep your praise specific. Do not offer a grand, sweeping statement like “You did great” or “That is a beautiful picture.” Take the time to give a more sincere and specific praise. Note a specific aspect of the task that you found particularly praiseworthy–the way they passed the ball, the way they worked with their teammate during a specific play, the color combinations they chose for the painting, the angle of the photograph, the chord they chose in the song, the way their voice resonated on the high pitch, the beautiful 10-yard pass in the 3rd quarter, or…you get the idea. Make your praise specific. Your child will appreciate that you paid enough attention to notice the specifics. This expresses how much your value your child.
3. When you praise specifics, you can also be sincere enough in your praise to discuss mistakes and areas of improvement. Loving constructive criticism actually enhances the power of praise. Constructive criticism lets a child know that your praise is more than mere words. You really did pay attention. You noticed the specific things they did well. And, by offering an occasional constructive criticism, you communicate your belief that they have the ability to do better. Do not overdo this part of praise. However, do not avoid discussing mistakes either. I think a good ratio would be to offer at least 5 sincere, specific praises for every 1 constructive criticism. If you cannot offer 5 sincere, specific praises, you need to work harder at praise. You are not looking hard enough at your child’s effort or the specific steps your child has done well.
4. Finally, limit your praise. I know, this sounds contradictory. But, overpraising your child only leads them to disbelieve your praise. Studies have shown that children associate excessive praise with inability. They believe that teachers and parents give constant praise to those who cannot do the task and constructive criticism to those who have more ability. So, limit your praise. Don’t praise your child for every little accomplishment. Don’t constantly tell them what a “good boy” or “good girl” they are. Let them earn that praise is reserved for those actions that truly deserve praise. An older gentleman once complained to me that his grandchildren now have a ceremony when they graduate from preschool, a party when they graduate from kindergarten, a formal graduation from elementary school, and the school band plays when they walk for a diploma from middle school. In a world in which the Bachelor’s Degree is losing value, we emphasize graduating from preschool. “Really,” he asked me, “What did they accomplish to deserve a ceremony in preschool? If we give such notable praise for these smaller accomplishments, what will we do when they graduate from high school? How will they know they really have accomplished something when they earn their Master’s Degree? And, what will motivate them to achieve more when they get to college and find that the teacher is not there handing out constant affirmation?” Something to think about.