Thoughtful Parenting: To praise or not to praise?

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Doesn’t it feel good when someone notices you persisted on something difficult? A few kind words are all it takes to feel appreciated. Children feel the same way.

The purpose of praise is to increase the likelihood that positive behaviors (working hard, persistence, trying something new despite worry, learning social manners) will occur again and to give children the “self-talk” they can use to coach themselves though challenges. We need this inner dialogue to get us through inevitable rough patches.

The idea of giving praise has gotten some mixed reviews in recent years. You might have heard that praising will spoil a child or lead to beliefs of entitlement or superiority. Others question why we should praise at all. After all, aren’t kids just supposed to do what they are told? There are ways that praise can be used appropriately and effectively. Consider these tips:

■ Catch them being good: Watch for situations during the day when you notice your child put forth a little more effort, persisted through a difficult task, managed his or her anger despite considerable frustration, tried something new that was intimidating or shared a toy when giving it up appeared agonizing. Noticing and commenting on positive behavior will help your child notice the behavior and increase the likelihood he or she will do it again.

■ Praise in the moment: Praising in the moment is really effective, but often it’s difficult to think of what to say. Phrases such as: “I like …” “Way to …” “You worked hard to …” “You managed to ... even though you felt nervous” might come in handy.

■ Be specific: What did you see that you liked? Say it! “I like how you turned off the TV when I asked you,” “I appreciate you getting in the car faster today,” “I saw you really went after that ball even though you looked exhausted,” “You seemed nervous and found the courage to ...”

Avoid using “but.” We might think we’re giving praise when we say, “I really appreciate that you set the table, but you were supposed to do it 30 minutes ago!” Your child probably only heard the last part. Notice how often you pay a compliment followed by a “but.” Using that word only negates the praise.

■ Process not product: “You gave up a lot of Facebook time to do the extra studying you needed to improve your math grade. Good job!” Kids will link effort to results. They will feel good about the process it took to get a positive result. This is what builds confidence and self-esteem.

Try these strategies during the next week and pay attention to how it feels and the reaction you see in your child.

Way to try something new!

Barbara Gueldner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist specializing in children and families. She is a member of First Impressions, the Early Childhood Council of Routt County. Read her blog at www.successfulkidstoday.com.

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