A Helpful New Year's Resolution: Praising Your Children

By Dr. Cecily Anders

Any time your child engages in a positive behavior that you want your child to repeat again in the future, it is beneficial to both you and your child to praise that behavior.  Praised behaviors are repeated behaviors.  When I work with children in therapy, a behavior that is praised is frequently repeated in future sessions.  Parents often have concerns and questions about praising their children.  Hopefully, this post will help you feel comfortable praising your child more frequently, but also at the right time.

Often parents say, “But I don’t want to praise my child for engaging in a behavior that most children are able to do without praise.”  When praising, it doesn’t matter how small or obvious the behavior is, you should still praise the behavior if you would like your child to repeat the behavior again in the future.  For instance, you can praise a child for not interrupting you while you were on the phone or for sitting still while riding in the car.  A child learns from praise and also feels rewarded from praise.  Most likely, other children learned that they should engage in “obvious” behaviors because someone praised them for those behaviors at some point in their lives.

Some parents say, “My child has been misbehaving all day.  I can’t praise my child after doing one little thing right.”   This is exactly when you should praise a child.  Your child is paying attention to when s/he has your attention.  Your child wants to be praised and receive your positive attention.  If you only give your child praise once during the day, your child is going to remember that event and will most likely repeat that one behavior again in the future.  In addition, always make sure to state what the child did correctly during the praise and this will make it perfectly clear to your child what you would like your child to do again in the future.  For example, you might say, “Thank you so for picking up your toys before going to bed.  You did an excellent job.”   You can include non-verbal praise like a warm smile or a hug.  Praise is about shaping your child’s behavior.  The more you let your child know the behaviors you prefer, by pointing them out right after your child does them, the more you will see those behaviors in the future. 

If you really want to challenge yourself, you can begin praising everyone in your life more.  Teenagers, significant others, coworkers and friends all appreciate and respond to genuine, warm praise.  Notice the wonderful behaviors going on around you and verbally reward away!  You might just be surprised and delighted by how often those behaviors are repeated in the future.