Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Praise for Children (page 2)
If you’re a parent, you no doubt think that praise for children is a good thing. After all, praise helps build their self-esteem and self-confidence, right? Well, it depends. Too much nonspecific praise can be meaningless. And if you praise your child too much, it can backfire; it doesn't allow the child to experience failure and to learn how to deal with setbacks. How and when you praise your child can make all the difference.
When you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll be on your way to building that all-important self-confidence children need.
Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Praise for Children
Do be specific.You’ll be helping your child when you tell her exactly what she did to earn your praise. Believe it or not, by age 7 children can distinguish between specific and nonspecific praise. Your praise should be descriptive and concrete. For example, say, "I like the way you put your toys back on the shelves," or "You did a great job putting your toys back," instead of simply saying, “Good job.”
Do praise the process, not the product. If your child scores an A on a test, don’t congratulate her on the A but say, “You really studied hard for that test.” If she gets a C, say “I know you really worked hard and now you understand what else you needed to do,” rather than saying, “Getting a C is OK, too.” Encouragement, especially when it’s not judgmental, places the emphasis on behavior and process rather than person and product. Even when your child fails, encouraging her motivates her to keep trying. It also helps her understand that mistakes are an important part of learning -- and that failure can be a great teacher.
Don’t compare your child to other kids. Each child develops at her own pace and is unique. Appreciate your child for who she is.
Do help your child appreciate her own achievements. You’ll want your child to be proud of what she accomplishes without waiting to have praise heaped upon her. If she’s always seeking praise, she won’t have that sense of doing a job well for its own sake.Many experts believe that praise, the traditional positive reinforcer, is “coercive”—that it motivates children to do things for extrinsic reasons (to please others) and not for intrinsic reasons (to please themselves or because the task is inherently worth doing).
Don’t criticize without also offering words of encouragement. Constructive comments and encouragement will motivate your child to keep trying. Negative comments may cause her to give up.
Don’t forget hugs. Praise isn’t just wrapped up in what you say; it comes through your body language, too. Hugs, high-fives, and smiles, or even just sitting with your child and letting her know you’re supporting her while she’s working on a project, are forms of praise that will build her self-confidence.
Tips for Praising Teens
As your child enters the teen years, you may find it harder to communicate with her as she goes off into her room and locks the door, or spends more time with her peers. But now more than ever, when she may have doubts about her self-image, praising her in specific ways will help her through the turbulent teen years.
Study after study shows that teens who have close, supportive relationships with their parents are better off. They’re healthier and less likely to engage in risky behaviors. They have higher self-esteem and are more successful in school and beyond.
Your teen may drive you crazy at times but try to focus on what she does right, and praise her in specific ways, such as “It was so great that you were considerate of your little sister and let her use your computer” or “I know you’ve been working really hard on improving your tennis swing, and it’s showing in your game.” Try to express your praise at the time your teen does something positive rather than waiting until later. Show an interest and praise your teen about the things she cares about, whether or not it’s something you’re interested in yourself.
Keep It Real and Relevant
Whatever praise you offer your child (no matter her age), make sure it’s in the context of genuine love and appreciation for who your child is rather than what she’s done. You’ll boost her self-confidence in a way that will serve her well into adulthood.
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