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Use Praise More

Parents: remember to praise your child’s “good” behavior, that is, the behavior you want to see more of, rather than spending most of your time reacting to, and punishing the behaviors you don’t want. It’s so much more effective to increase behaviors you want to see, e.g., “wow, you guys are really playing nicely together”, since you actually do want your kids playing nicely together, than it is spending a ton of time on punishing unwanted behavior.

Unfortunately, we tend to be quiet when our kids are “behaving”, but that’s exactly when we should be catching them being good, and praising that behavior to make it happen more often. Praise is, as most of us know, the expression of warm admiration usually delivered verbally. Praise can also be nonverbal in the form of positive gestures like a smile, but most often, it takes the form of a verbal statement.

For parents and teachers alike, there are some important points to remember about using praise:

  • Praise is most effective if it is perceived as sincere, earned, and truthful

Praise should not be artificial; you shouldn’t have to make stuff up. However, we sometimes get in such a rut of being reactive to behaviors we don’t want, that we fail to see the behaviors we do want. This behavior pattern can make the change to increased use of praise feel a little bit weird initially. Be persistent though and look for opportunities to provide sincere praise.

  • Praise needs to be specific

Saying “good job”, while positive, really isn’t very specific and tends to be much less effective than something more specific like, “thanks for putting your dirty plate in the dishwasher, that’s super helpful”. Keeping praise targeted provides better feedback as to what the child did that brought the praise about. This specificity will increase the possibility and likelihood that you’ll see the desired behavior again.

  • Praise should be focused more on the process than ability

Here, we’re looking for praise to be given for behaviors that the child can change. Using praise in the form of “you’re so smart”, while again being positive, puts the focus on something usually understood as out of the child’s control. It’s difficult to change one’s ability, but praising something like effort, which is in total control by the child, gives them a roadmap to improve or to be more adaptive.

  • Praise should be immediate

By immediate, we mean as soon as possible following the desired behavior. This doesn’t mean that it should happen one second after the behavior, but in general, it is best to provide praise relatively soon after a praiseworthy behavior has occurred.

Using praise is an effective way to increase the behaviors you want to see from you child, and it helps to maintain a more positive environment and more positive communication pattern.

For more help with your child’s behavioral issues or help coming up with general disciplinary strategies, please contact us at klass@utk.edu or 865-974-6177.