Tips on Praise

Praise should be sincere and age appropriate. It should never be vague and should not be overused for everyday tasks, chores or actions that are expected to be completed. School age children are able to “see through” praise. If a child already enjoys a task then praise is not needed. The focus should be on the intrinsic reward from the performance of the activity. In this way the intrinsic value is the motivator. Excess praise can easily be confused with bribes and if always expected the lack of praise can serve as negative stimuli to decrease the frequency of the desired positive behavior. Make sure you are praising what you think you are praising and do not set the bar too high for praise. Each of these can result in conflict.

Opposite of praise is criticism. Criticism is not effective in the long term in changing behavior. Criticism always hurts. The ability to tolerate criticism is a positive skill but the use of criticism to enact and encourage change in a child’s behavior is riddled with negative short and long term effects. When someone criticizes another they are saying: “I know something you don’t.”

General feedback is similar to praise but is more neutral and informative. As with praise it should be timely and specific. Feedback that does not focus on a particular act or pattern is ineffective. It must be genuine and heartfelt and expressed with a tone of excitement. Be wary of having a hidden agenda to the feedback where direction is given for another purpose and never add a wish list at the end of positive feedback. “You did a great job on your spelling test today. I know you will do just as well on you math test tomorrow.” Lastly, when giving feedback never make it personal. Always target an event. Instead of saying: “You gave too much food to the dog last night” consider saying: “I worry we may be feeding our dog too much food. How could we be sure to measure out the right amount of food for every feeding?”

When giving feedback make sure to balance negative feedback positive feedback or praise. A rule of thumb is to recognize through words of fondness or admiration positive behaviors five times more frequently than negative. Most parent praise patterns come from patterns they learned in their upbringing.

Praise is best when it increases a child’s own internal excitement and allows and encourages them to internalize reinforcement to repeat a future act or behavior.