Power of Praise
As social beings, we love doing a good job—and we love hearing the feedback on our successes! However, in an attempt to praise more, many people take the “easy” route—a simple “good job,” “nice work,” or “that was great” becomes a standard reply. And, just like other standard replies, this makes the praise less powerful and effective. Kids, being the apt little learners they are, catch on quickly, and tend to stop responding to praise. So how can you help your child to feel confident, proud, and accomplished, without “blowing smoke?” Read on to find out the 4 steps to harnessing the power of praise from a Littleton child behavior psychologist.
- Evaluation vs. Description. Consider these two statements: 1. “Your drawing is the best!” 2. “Wow! you used my favorite color, you drew a flower just like the one we saw yesterday, and everything is so creative and expressive!” Which would you prefer? The first is an example of evaluative praise, or praise that creates a judgment. The second is an example of descriptive praise, or praise that describes the reasons why you like something. Descriptive praise does not imply judgment, and clearly outlines what caused you to feel the way you did.
- Praise descriptively. Now that you know the difference between evaluative and descriptive praise, it’s time to start describing! Challenge yourself to replace at least one “good job!” or other generic praise statement with descriptive praise. It may surprise your child, and may be a challenge for you, but everyone can learn how.
- Observe your child “putting the pieces together.” Evaluative praise tells the child what to think. “You are smart,” “you are a great soccer player,” or “you are nice” all create a self-image for the child—that may or may not seem dependent upon effort or action. Worse, what if that “smart” child does poorly next time? Are they still smart? You know they are, but kids have a harder time. Instead, descriptive praise is more clear and effective, as it allows your child to put the pieces together to figure out their own judgment, and provides a great way for parents to model emotional reasoning. Instead of “that was nice,” try something like “when you offered to let your friend borrow your game for the weekend, that was a big sacrifice for you, I bet he is so happy and excited!” This will help your child see that his actions, not him as a person, are creating these feelings and making him a nice and generous person.
- Practice makes perfect! The great thing about praise is how many opportunities you have to practice it. This demonstrates your own gratitude and helps to point out the specific things that you want to see more of. Even when those things don’t happen, your child will not feel down on herself, but will continue to have a strong inner feeling of self-worth and pride.
When I work with children and parents in Littleton for ADHD counseling or play therapy, we have plenty of opportunities to practice praise. Sometimes we try it out on Zeke, our therapy dog, and other times, we incorporate other evidence-based, proven strategies to help you and your child succeed. To find out more, or to set up an appointment, use the contact section on this website.