Nothing delights a young child more than praise from his parents. But there can be right and wrong ways of praising toddlers, and sometimes praise can actually do more harm than good. A little praise never hurt anyone, but there are some basic guidelines that will help make the praises you sing to your little one loud and clear.
“When praising toddlers, make it genuine and specific,” says Maureen Boylan, early childhood specialist and author of Leap into Literacy. “Rather than saying I like your picture, comment on the colors that were used or how hard your child worked on it.” These simple “Do’s” and “Don’ts” will help make your praise more meaningful for your child and more effective at getting the desired responses in the future.
- Make it Physical. Gently touch your child on the shoulder, or give him a hug, kiss or a high five when you are expressing your approval. A thumbs up or smile across the room can have the same effect. Your positive body language may mean more than the words you say to your young child.
- Make it Genuine. Well-meaning parents can slip into a mechanical “Good job!” many times a day without even realizing it. Your child can tell if you really mean it! Be specific about what you liked and be sure the tone and inflection of your voice communicate your delight. Look your child in the eyes and smile at him to be sure he can see how pleased you are.
- Make it Personal. Parents often make comments such as “I think that is just great” which is really all about what the parent thinks rather than the child's accomplishment. Instead, make the praise personal for your child. Try a few of these: “You are doing such a great job cleaning up”, “You are getting to be such a big boy!”, “You worked so hard on your picture!” Make it all about your child and not about your thoughts or feelings.
- Over Praise. Too much praise really can be a bad thing. If you praise your child for everything, he will come to expect it every time he does something. The first few times he hangs his coat up by himself, give him praise, but not every time. “Praise often, but don’t overdo it or it loses its effectiveness,” says Boylan.
- Make it About His Character. Be sure the praise is about the behavior or the action, and not a comment on the child’s character. When you say “You are good” or “You are bad,” this is a reflection on your child’s character, and he may feel it can’t be changed. Instead say “Your behavior is good” or “Your behavior is bad” and it becomes something the child can choose to change.
- Make it Critical. Be sure not to intermingle praise with criticism. For example, if your son dresses himself, and you say, “Good job dressing yourself, but those clothes really don’t match,” the praise is lost. Parents think they are helping to teach their children by redoing what a toddler has done incorrectly, but it really does more harm than good and sends a message that the child did not do a good enough job. Who cares if his clothes don’t match? Just walk into school, proudly exclaim to the teacher “Sammy dressed himself today, didn’t he do a great job” and give a wink. Your son will be proud and the kids won’t even notice!
Having an influence on the behaviors and actions of your child using praise can be both effective and rewarding. Aside from the outcome in changing behavior, there is simply no greater reward than watching your child’s face light up when you praise him!