A new way to praise
How you praise can have a big influence on your child’s behaviour
Y ou’ve probably heard a lot lately about not giving your little ones too much praise, that the parenting pendulum has swung away from the stick, but we’re now way too close to carrot overload. Saying ‘Good job, darling’ too often is, well, bad. Confused? A lot of parents are. But research shows that it’s not a matter of how much praise we dole out, but the way we do it that makes the difference. Time then, to get to the heart of the matter with the help of parenting experts Joanna Faber and Julie King, the authors of How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival guide to Life with Children ages 2-7 ($24.75, Booktopia).
And they say that the secret to all this is using descriptive praise, where you simply appreciate what your child is doing, rather than evaluative praise, which is when you stick a verbal ‘good’ or ‘clever’ or ‘smart’ label on your little one.
Just think about it for a moment – what are we trying to accomplish when we praise children? Most people say something like, ‘We want to encourage them to do more of the same.’ Or ‘We’re trying to make them aware of their strengths’. Or ‘We want them to feel confident… or try harder’. It seems only natural that if we’re trying to boost self-esteem, we’ll tell our children frequently and enthusiastically, ‘You’re great, smart, beautiful, the best!’.
But words that evaluate do not always achieve the desired effect. They can make kids focus on their weaknesses rather than their strengths: ‘I’m not so smart. I can’t do puzzles as well as Johnny,’ or feel threatened: ‘I’d better stop while I’m ahead. My next shot might miss the basket’. Or feel dismissive and insincere: ‘She always says my drawing is great. But does she really like it?’. But when we praise our children descriptively – by looking, listening and noticing – we hold up a mirror to show them their strengths. And that helps them build a positive self-image. Evaluative praise can be cancelled out: ‘Good boy’ can be replaced the next day by ‘Bad Boy’; ‘You’re a smart girl’ by ‘What a stupid thing to do’. But the effects of descriptive praise can’t: you can’t take away the memory of that time your child made his baby sister laugh with his goofy faces, or found your glasses, or managed to build that Duplo tower by himself. And if in the past he did something he was proud of, he has the power to do it again.
Here are the tools you’ll need to make it easy for you to use descriptive praise with your little ones…