“Catch them being good.”
Most parenting advice includes these words of wisdom. The idea is that we should praise children for good behavior, both as positive reinforcement and to promote self-esteem. Who would argue? We all want to encourage good behavior from children, whether at home, in the classroom, or at the grocery store.
Not all Praise is the Same
Parents and teachers are encouraged to not only set clear boundaries for children and hold them accountable, but also to acknowledge positive behaviors as they occur. Some experts believe a general rule of thumb is to offer children feedback in the following ratio: five positives to one negative.
The good news is this is easy advice to follow. Teachers and parents would much rather spend their time pointing out positive behavior than lecturing children when things don’t go well. It’s always more pleasant to give praise than correction.
However, it’s important to note that not all praise is the same. While it’s helpful to notice and acknowledge the positive behaviors of children (and adults, too), certain kinds of praise —noted author Haim Ginott calls it “descriptive praise” — not only makes the child feel good, it also reinforces why that behavior was good. Descriptive praise offers twice the impact.
Sometimes Praise Sends an Incomplete Message
Too often, positive messages are shrunk down to simple statements such as, “Good job!”, “You’re such a good kid.” or “Thank you for helping me.” While well-intentioned, simple praise statements fail to include the intrinsic value of the positive behavior. They don’t offer the child guidance on why the behavior was positive. Instead, simple praise implies that the only value of the positive behavior is to please someone else — almost always an adult.
Simple statements of praise may temporarily please a child, but the practice comes at a price. It means that children only externally experience the praise through verbal statements, a smile or a pat on the back. They do not have the opportunity to internally process the praise, reflecting on how their own positive behavior has an impact on them. This internal processing can help children understand how positive behavior can be a source of confidence and joy. It also helps children develop habits of the mind and heart for consistent and continued positive behavior.
Take Extra Time to Offer Effective Praise
The next time you “catch them being good” take the extra time to tell them what was “good” about the behavior.
- “Thank you for cleaning your room” turns into, “It was so helpful of you to clean your room because it means we both have extra time to spend together doing something fun.”
- “I’m glad you invited other children to play” becomes, “It was so welcoming of you to include others in your game.”
- “Good job finishing your homework” could be, “You are working so hard on your school project.”
Offering this type of effective feedback and praise helps to shift your child’s perspective from external to internal. The idea is for them to think about how their positive actions contribute to their own development and growth, rather than simply thinking their actions made someone else happy for a moment. Effective feedback helps kids to go from thinking, “My teacher or parent thinks I did a good job” to “I did a good job!”
The Blake School is a Pre-K through 12 independent school with three campus locations in Hopkins, Minneapolis and Wayzata. For information about our early childhood education program see www.blakeschool.org or talk with teachers, parents, students and staff at an upcoming Discover Blake event.