The power of praise

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  Published on Wednesday, 16 September 2020

The power of praise

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & NutritionParenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 16 September 2020
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Praise is a simple, but meaningful, way to encourage good feelings and good behaviour in your child.

It happens when you tell your youngster what you like about their behaviour, and although, “Good job!” is a catchphrase that rings out regularly in playgrounds, there’s a school of thought that specific, mindful praise has greater benefit than generic words of encouragement.

Here we look at Raising Children’s advice around praise and see how you can use positive feedback to enhance your child’s learning and development.

Why is praise so important?

Praise makes people of all ages feel good, and during childhood, the experts say that it can boost your child’s self-esteem, increase their confidence and show them how to think and talk about themselves in positive ways.

Raising Children says praise can help your child learn how to recognise their successes and congratulate themselves for a job well done, and it can also have a motivational effect going forward.

Praise can be used to encourage desirable behaviour in your child, and it shows that you’re noticing their effort and achievements and are keen to see more of the same.

What kind of praise is most impactful?

Although it’s easy to say, “Great work!” when your child packs up their toys or puts on their shoes unassisted, Raising Children says that non-specific praise (or compliments given when your child hasn’t actually done something), can lessen the power of your praise.

For this reason, ‘descriptive praise’ is encouraged, and this type of considered comment involves you saying what you specifically like about your child’s behaviour.

This means that instead of using, “Great work!” as your go-to response, you might say, “I like the way you’ve found a place for all the toys in your room” or “I like the way you chose gumboots for this rainy day.”

How does encouragement relate to praise?

Encouragement is praise for effort, not just for achievement, and this kind of praise can be used to:

  • Motivate your child to try hard in the future (e.g. “You worked really hard to put those puzzle pieces together and almost solved it!”)
  • Help them do something or act in a certain way (e.g. “Show me how well you can tie your shoelaces”)
  • Change their behaviour for the better (e.g. “It’s great how you used words to ask for that teddy”)
  • Build your child’s confidence
  • Encourage them to persevere and
  • Help them stay upbeat when they encounter challenges.

First Five Years contributor, Dr Michael Nagel says, ‘When effort is praised, children show greater willingness to take risks, [they] work out new ways of doing things, do not fear failure and generally appear more resilient over time.’

How does praise for effort compare with praise for an inherent trait?

If you praise your child for being clever or pretty or ‘a natural’ at sport, then you’re praising them for an inherent trait; and Dr Nagel says this praise for something, ‘Innate, natural and potentially unchangeable’ does not have the same long-term benefits as praise for effort.

He says numerous studies have shown that praising a child’s effort instead of an inherent trait, ‘Is positively related to that child’s motivation and approach to challenging tasks,’ so instead of saying, “You did well, you’re very smart!” you might want to say, “You did well, you must have tried really hard!”

How can praise be used to promote good behaviour?

When it comes to your child’s behaviour, praise can be a powerful tool for encouraging more of the behaviour you like to see.

Raising Children says, ‘Children are more likely to repeat behaviour that earns praise,’ and practically-speaking, they say the best way to encourage good behaviour is to:

  • Look out for times when your child is behaving how you want them to;
  • Get their attention as soon as you see this good behaviour; and
  • Tell your child exactly what you liked about it (e.g. “I like the way you gave Frankie a turn on the swing just then”).

When you’re starting out with this technique, they recommend that you praise your child every time you see the desirable behaviour, then, as the behaviour becomes more common, you won’t need to praise it so much.

Rewards can also be paired with praise to reinforce good behaviour and encourage your child to act that way again.

A small treat, nice surprise or special privilege given after your child behaves well can encourage them to repeat their actions, but keep in mind that rewards should be used in moderation or they’ll lose their impact.

How can you incorporate praise into the day-to-day?

Raising Children says, ‘You can’t give too much praise’ and they suggest that you actively look for opportunities to compliment your child in a meaningful way.

They recommend that you:

  • Give your child words of encouragement every day, and when you feel good about them, make sure you share this with them.
  • Focus on praising your child much more regularly than you criticise them. Aim for a ratio of at least six compliments for every single negative comment.
  • Praise your child’s effort as well as their achievement, and look for little changes and successes to praise, instead of waiting until they perfectly master something before you comment on it. 
  • Praise your child for their unique strengths and encourage them to embrace their individual interests to help them build self-confidence and a sense of pride.

What we can take from all this, is that simple, well-selected words can be used to motivate your child, guide their good behaviour and give them an emotional boost, so let’s all make an effort to look for the positives and incorporate praise into our everyday parenting.


Raising Children

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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