"I Like It When You _______": Praising your child well.

I am always encouraging parents to praise their kids. However, I’ve come to realize over the years that this is NOT a skill all parents have naturally.  A few years back, I was encouraging a mother to praise her daughter. I had gone over some lessons in how useful praise is with her, but this mom told me praising her child never worked. Puzzled, I asked her to praise the daughter in session and show me what she did.  Mom said, “Honey, you do such a good job coloring neatly!”  I smiled, as did the child, happy at this praising, until the Mom followed up with “If only you could be as neat at home!” 

Does anyone see the problem with the above praise?  The praise itself is great, but it is quickly followed with a message that stings. Now wonder the child didn’t like being praised.  Would we like it if our boss praised us for completing the TPS reports early, then said “If only you got to work early every day!”  Most of us would HATE that.    

How do you praise well?  First, praise should be specific.  The mother above was very precise in what she liked, i.e. her daughter coloring neatly.  That was excellent!  Second, praise should be said in a way that is understandable to a child.  Simple sentences are best.  Third, you should only praise behaviors you want to keep. If you want your child to put away their drawing, don’t praise them for coloring neatly.  Ask them to clean up, and then praise them for complying with a nice “Good job for listening to instructions!” Lastly, praise is NOT an opportunity to make a request for the future.  Don’t add on a comment about something you wish your child would do better. That just makes your child defensive whenever she is praised.

Good praises include phrases like:

Good job doing _______.

I like it when you _______.

Wow!  You are really good at ________.

Mommy likes it when you do __________!  Thank you!

Thank you for __________.


Go forth and praise your children well!