You may have heard that you should correct the behavior, not the child. You may even have eliminated such phrases as “bad boy” or “bad girl” from your vocabulary. Yet, you may not know that the same principles relate to praise.
Telling your children that they have done a good job or even a great job ought to be the easy part of parenting; however, even praise has rules to follow if you want it to be as effective as possible.
In general, we all like to be complimented. Yet if someone were to say that you are “such a great parent” you may think to yourself, “Oh gosh – what makes me such a great parent? Is it that I read with my children or that I’m consistent? Yikes, do I need to do it all?”
Your children are the same way. If you say, “You are such a good girl,” it still feels nice, but it can leave your children wondering, “What do I need to do to keep being a good girl? Do I need to be quiet? Make my bed? Eat my vegetables?” The more specific you can be with your praise, the easier it is for your children to accept the compliment.
Avoid Global Statements like “Always” and “Never”
Additionally, if you are told that you ALWAYS do something, the mind naturally goes to the exceptions. For example if someone says, “You are always so patient with your children,” rather than take in the compliment, you may think of how you yelled at your children just this morning for fighting.
People are able to take in compliments easier if they are specific to the situation. So hearing, “You really kept a calm voice when your children were fighting in the store,” may be easier to internalize.
The same is true for your children. If you say, “You are always so polite,” then your children may think of the rude comment they made the other day. Instead, state, “The way you said thank you when she handed you the card was very polite,” – such phrases make the praise more meaningful. The more precise you can be, the easier it is for your children to believe the compliment. Strive to be as descriptive as possible.
Be Descriptive and Let them Know How their Behavior Makes you Feel
Finally, hearing how your children can positively impact others can build their self-esteem and motivate them to continue the behavior. For example, if someone says to you, “The way you listened to me talk when I was really sad left me feeling appreciated,” then you may feel good about your interpersonal skills and also be motivated to put in the extra time and effort when you meet that person again.
Similarly, your children can enjoy hearing the positive impact that they can make on others. For example, you can say, “When you clean up all of the toys on the floor, I feel at ease when I walk into the room.”
You can even take it a step further, by naming the trait. “It took a lot of hard work to clean up all of the toys. That’s what I call being industrious.” Over time, children build a vocabulary of positive traits about themselves. The more you can describe their behaviors and label their abilities, the easier it is for your children to affirm themselves throughout their lives.
Other Traits and Behaviors You Can Praise
Your children do not need to do a perfect job for you to praise them. You can encourage them by commenting on their effort, their improvement, their desire to try, and their attitude. You can also look at the bigger picture and praise their exhibition of:
- Effective time management
Another way to praise children is through the use of affirmations, which are messages that you can send to your children that let them know that you love them and that you think they are capable and competent.
Since these are the two basic components of self-esteem, parents can intentionally use affirmations to build their children’s self-confidence and bolster their belief in themselves. Parents can affirm their children in many ways: through their body language, actions, touch, words, song, gifts, spending time with them, or taking care of their needs.
Types of Affirmations
“Being” Messages – Telling your children they are lovable
Some affirming statements let your children know that you accept and love them as they are. At any age, hearing “I love you” and “I am so glad you are my son/daughter” will build their feelings of being loved and lovable, as will giving your children a hug or saying cheerfully “welcome home” when they return from school. Parents can also communicate their love by willingly spending time with their children as way to let your children know that you like being with them and that you value them.
“Doing” Messages – Telling your children they are capable
Other types of affirmations send the message that parents support and encourage their children to do the things they need to do to grow, mature and become more capable. Statements such as “You worked hard to make sure you finished your chores before playing,” affirms a child’s competency and sense of responsibility. Giving a child a “high five” when they have achieved something they worked hard for acknowledges them for their accomplishment.
Helping Your Child Mature by Using Affirmations
Affirming children for working on their developmental tasks is an important way that parents support their children’s growth toward maturity. For example:
- Toddlers are working on ownership, which is why they have difficulty sharing their toys with other children. When parents see their child making altruistic overtures, they can reinforce the child’s growth by saying “Look how you offered your friend a chance to play with the toy. See his smile. You made him very happy.”
- Elementary age children are learning about rules. Rules become very important to them; they demand that others follow them, while they sometimes try to bend the rules for themselves. Parents can affirm their children’s experimentation with rules in order to learn to accept and understand them: “You are trying to figure out what rules are and how they apply to you and other people.”
- Teens are working on ways to become independent, exploring opposite-sex relationships, and make their own decisions. Again, parents can affirm their adolescents growth in these areas.
Things you can Affirm
The following list can help you to be more conscious about highlighting things that can enhance your children’s self-esteem. You can affirm:
- An accomplishment: “You worked hard on the science fair project and got first place. Congratulations!!”
- A potential: ” In a little while, you will be able to swim, just like (older sister) Polly can.”
- A quality or a trait: “It was so thoughtful of you to offer to take care of Mrs. Brown’s cat while she is away. You are a very considerate person.”
- An effort: “You really worked hard to get your room cleaned up before the company arrived. Even though you didn’t finish as much as you wanted to, you did your best and I am proud of you for trying so hard.”
- A struggle: “It is really hard for you to see that (younger brother) Matt does not have to do as many chores as you do. It doesn’t seem fair to you.”
- An intention: “You meant to buy Grandma a birthday card. Even though you didn’t think about it in time, it was still thoughtful of you to remember that it was her birthday.”
For more information about praise, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
If you found this article helpful, click here to make a donation to The Center for Parenting Education. Your support will enable us to continue to provide quality information free of charge.