Too many ‘no’s’

A UCLA survey from a few years ago reported that the average one-year-old child hears the word ‘No’ more than 400 times a day.

How to praise without spoiling children

As a parent, you may worry about giving your children too much praise and making them big-headed. However, if praise is given in the right way you won’t spoil our children.

What is important is that you notice and comment when your children are being good. Then, rather than saying ‘good girl’ or ‘well done’ we describe the behaviour. Such as; ‘I really like the way you are playing quietly while I’m cooking the tea – that is very helpful’.

Notice the label ‘helpful’ at the end of the comment. When you want to encourage values such as being thoughtful, confident, honest, independent, gentle, etc., it is a good idea to point them out. You encourage the behaviour by paying attention to it.

Praise for small improvements

It is also important not to save praise for perfect behaviour, or for being really good. Children will be much more motivated when they know how to get your positive attention. Lots of small comments throughout the day will help them know exactly what they are doing that you like. It is good to comment every time you see good or even acceptable behaviour, efforts to try to do something or small improvements. ‘Last night it was two minutes before you called for Mummy. Tonight you managed to last five minutes –that showed good self-control.’

If your children are not fighting –you should notice it! You can tell them how nice it is to see them sitting side by side and not hurting each other. Once or twice this may backfire. But eventually, they will start to learn that they get positive attention if they are not fighting. Consistently noticing is the key

Random rewards can help

If you are able to link some of this good behaviour to random treats and rewards, your children will feel even more motivated to keep up the good work. If you have a treat planned you could say ‘ Because you tried so hard with you reading this morning I’m going to take you to the park this afternoon’.

The best way to praise

When you are praising a child the impact is increased if you show how pleased you are with smiles, eye contact, hugs, pats on the back and enthusiasm. It is best if praise is immediate. Praising in front of other people makes children feel proud, and if you consistently express your belief in your children they will start to believe it too!

Giving positive attention may feel awkward at first. But when you think about it, isn’t it sad that we feel more comfortable criticising our children than encouraging them in their efforts? If your child rejects your praise you need to make even more effort–it may be that they are so used to hearing criticisms they cling to their negative self-image.

The importance of praising ‘difficult’ children

Children who have difficult temperaments also need even more praise than easy-going children. They hear so many negatives throughout the day that you’ll have to be even more vigilant in pointing out the good or just OK behaviour. Constantly looking for little things to praise will reduce the demotivating effects of the negative comments that their behaviour often attracts. It can be hard for a child has a hyperactive or impulsive personality to ever feel good at anything!

Give yourself a pat on the back too!

Your children will also pick up behaviour that you model. So it is good if they hear you saying positive things about yourself. It may feel awkward at first, but it’s good to say ‘I did a good job cooking this evening, I really enjoyed that.’ Or ‘I managed to mend my puncture –I’m quite good at that!’ As these are good messages for your children to hear.

Acknowledging your own efforts will have the added benefit of helping you feel more positive about your skills. Let’s face it you don’t often hear the words: ‘You are a really good parent’ do you? Some partners make a point of telling each other at least one thing that they did well that day before they go to bed, just as a feel-good habit. Everyone likes to feel appreciated.

Praising is worth the effort

As a parent giving positive attention and descriptive praise can be difficult. However, the effects on your children of decreasing misbehaviour and improving self-image and motivation are really worth the effort. Consistently remembering to describe what your children are doing that you like can have a dramatic effect on their behaviour.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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