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Why Praise is So Powerful

February 6th, 2020     By Julie Almquist, M.S., LIMHP, and Assistant Clinic Director at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

Behavior, Communicating with Children, Communicating with Kids, Parenting Questions, Parenting Skills, Praise, Teachable Moments

​Praise is one of the most powerful teaching methods you can use. Praise is like a compass. A compass is an instrument that lets us know where we are going. It’s used to keep us going in the right direction. Praise works in much the same way. Praise lets children know they are heading in the right direction. Regularly using praise makes it easier for kids to stay on the right path and gets them back on track when they seem lost.

If praise is so powerful, why don’t parents use it as often as they should? There are several reasons. One is that it’s human nature to focus on things that go wrong rather than things that go right. The cup of milk spilled on the kitchen floor requires us to wipe it up, but the cup of milk the child poured without spilling doesn’t require our attention nearly as much.

Another reason we may not use praise is because we don’t recognize appropriate, expected behaviors as anything special. If we’ve already told our kids what behaviors we like, why should we have to keep telling them?

Some parents tell us that they praise their children, but it just doesn’t seem to make any difference in their kids’ behavior. Usually, we find that these parents praise only the outstanding achievements or momentous occasions. They are missing many everyday opportunities to focus on positive behaviors, the little things that kids do right all the time. After parents begin looking closely for small improvements and praising them, they notice many positive changes in their kids’ behavior. In addition, the parents feel they get along better with their kids. This is not coincidence. Praise works.

Other parents have asked us, “Why should I praise my kids for something they’re supposed to do?”  Good question. We answer them with these questions: “Do you like being recognized for the things you do well, regardless of whether you’re supposed to do them? Do you like to hear your boss tell you what a good job you’re doing?” Most parents say “Of course.” And then add, “And, I wouldn’t mind hearing it a little more often.”  Enough said. We all like to hear about things we do well.

Additionally, we have had parents ask, “Why should I praise my child for behavior he already does well?” Children need to know you appreciate the things they do well. Kids will see your praise as more personal if you praise them for things they already do well and not just for things you want them to improve. As your child masters a certain behavior, you may choose to say nothing – just give a “thumbs up,” a nod or a smile to acknowledge a job well done. Don’t take positive behavior for granted. If you do, you’ll find yourself focusing on all of the negative things your child does.

Regardless of why parents don’t use praise often enough, using praise actually can make life easier. When we show our approval of what our kids are doing, they’re more likely to continue to do more of the things we want them to do and fewer things we don’t want them to do. Catching children in the act of being good and praising their behaviors is one of the easiest and most effective ways to encourage them to behave well in the future.

Your children give you something to be happy and proud about. All kids do something that deserves praise. Make sure you recognize it, and most of all, tell them.

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