A new way to praise

How you praise can have a big in­flu­ence on your child’s be­hav­iour

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

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…

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