Praise: what it is and how it works
Praise is when you tell your child that you like what they’re doing or how they’re behaving. For example, ‘Great job, Riley’, ‘Well done, Jo’ or ‘That’s awesome, AB’.
Praise nurtures your child’s confidence and sense of self.
By using praise, you’re showing your child how to think and talk positively about themselves. You’re helping your child learn how to recognise when they do well and feel proud of themselves.
You can praise children of different ages for different things. You might praise a younger child for sharing or for leaving the park when asked. You can praise a teenage child for coming home at an agreed time or for starting homework without being reminded.
Descriptive praise is when you tell your child exactly what it is that you like. For example, ‘I like the way you’ve found a spot for everything in your room’. This helps your child understand exactly what it is that they’ve done well. It’s also more genuine than non-specific praise like ‘You’re a good boy’.
Encouragement: praise for effort
Encouragement is praise for effort. For example, ‘You worked hard on that maths homework – well done’. Praising effort can motivate your child and encourage them to try hard in the future.
You can also use encouragement before your child does something. For example, ‘Show me how well you can put your toys away’ or ‘I know you’re nervous about the test, but you’ve studied hard. No matter how it turns out, you’ve done your best’.
Some children, especially those who are less confident than others, need more encouragement than others. When praise is focused on effort, children are more likely to see trying hard as good in itself. They’re also more likely to keep trying and to be optimistic when they face challenges.
Rewards: consequences of positive behaviour
A reward is a consequence of positive behaviour. It’s a way of saying ‘Well done’ after your child has done something good or behaved positively.
A reward could be a treat, a surprise, time playing with you, a special family activity or an extra privilege. For example, as a reward for keeping their room tidy, you might let your child choose what’s for dinner or what game to play with you after dinner.
Using praise, encouragement and rewards to change behaviour
Children are more likely to repeat behaviour that earns praise or encouragement. This means you can use praise and encouragement to change challenging behaviour and replace it with positive behaviour.
If your child behaves in challenging ways, the first step is to identify the positive behaviour that you want to encourage. For example, if your child is taking toys from other children, you might want to encourage your child to take turns with toys instead.
The next step is to watch for and praise the positive behaviour – for example, times when your child takes turns. When you see the behaviour, immediately get your child’s attention and tell your child exactly what you liked. For example, ‘Noor, I liked how you waited your turn to play with that toy. Well done.’
At first, you can praise your child every time you see the positive behaviour. When the behaviour happens more often, you can praise or encourage it less. This can give you the chance to praise your child for other positive behaviour.
Rewards can make praise and encouragement work better. So when you praise or encourage your child’s behaviour and then reward it, the behaviour is more likely to happen again.
But it’s best not to overuse rewards like treats or surprises. If you need to use them a lot, it might be a sign that the behaviour is too hard for your child right now. Or you might need to look at other strategies to encourage positive behaviour in children or encourage positive behaviour in teenagers.
Sometimes you might notice challenging behaviour more than you notice positive behaviour. But look for the times when your child is behaving in positive ways and praise your child’s behaviour. Your child will feel good, and focusing on positive things will help you feel good too.
Tips for using praise, encouragement and rewards
Help your child recognise when they’ve done well and encourage positive behaviour with these tips.
What to praise, encourage and reward
- Look for little changes and successes. Praise any effort or improvement, rather than waiting until your child has done something perfectly.
- Praise your child for their strengths and encourage your child to feel excited about their own interests. This will help your child develop a sense of pride and self-confidence.
When to praise, encourage and reward
- Try to praise your child much more frequently than you correct them.
- When you feel good about your child’s behaviour, say so. Make sure to give your child some praise and encouragement every day.
- Surprise your child with rewards for good behaviour. For example, ‘Thanks for picking up the toys – let’s go to the park to celebrate’.
How to praise, encourage and reward
- Look for nonverbal ways to praise or encourage your child. A thumbs up, smile or high five can be powerful ways to show your child you’re impressed by their behaviour or efforts.
- Try to make your praise appropriate to the behaviour – sincere and enthusiastic, but not over the top. Children can tell when your praise is genuine.
- Try to mix up rewards. Rewards work best when your child doesn’t expect the same reward each time.
- Use praise and rewards in age-appropriate ways. For example, teenagers might not want to be praised publicly for their efforts, whereas toddlers might love being singled out for praise.