Praise and Building Our Child’s Positive Sense of Self

As caregivers we all want to bring up children who are well behaved. In an effort to achieve this, we redirect and correct often. If a child hears only redirections and corrections, the child can become deflated and start to feel as if she does nothing right. Using praise can help a child develop a positive sense of self. Professionals advise using 5 praise statements for every redirection.

Saying “good job,” to your child is praise, but cloudy in providing information. If we want the child to know precisely what they did that was good, so they will be more likely to repeat the behavior, use labeled praise. “Good job picking up the Legos when you were done playing,” gives the child more information.

Using praise can shape the behaviors we would like to see, while extinguishing behaviors we don’t want. “I like the way you are taking turns with your sister.” With this social reward your child gets a dose of dopamine. He feels good. If it makes him feel good, he is more likely to do it again.

We are quick to run in when siblings are fighting, and more likely to sit and enjoy the peace when they are getting along. Shaping behavior means taking the time to call out, “I like the way you two are playing the game and getting along.” Again, praise the behavior you want to see more of.

Experts also advise praising the effort. “Wow, you worked so hard on that drawing. Look at those red lines.” Rather than saying, “That is so pretty.” Children who are praised for effort will continue to try for themselves. Children praised for your evaluation of pretty will draw to please your idea of pretty.

Some of us may have trouble remembering to praise, especially if we weren’t raised this way. One trick is to put 5 pennies in your left pocket. Every time you praise, move a penny to the right pocket. The goal is to have all the pennies in your right pocket the end of an hour. Repeat. Eventually praising will become second nature and your child will be on her way to feeling more positive about herself.

Next blog post, nurturing competence.