“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – The Dalai Lama
We have all seen it. How children “bloom” with praise and “whither” with criticism. But how do we help guide children to have good behavior? One key is in praising the good behavior. There is the old adage that says, “you can draw more bees to honey than with vinegar “and it is actually true with children. Studies have shown that children hear the praise and often ignore the reprimand. It is fascinating to see what happens when you praise the good behavior instead of always focusing on the negative. Children want to hear more praise so they will choose to do the good behavior again in order to hear your compliment and support again. Praise for the positive things…. no matter how small…actually builds your child’s self esteem and makes him want to behave not because of fear of punishment but for the joy of doing the right thing. A child who hears that he is “naughty” all the time begins to view himself that way and will continue to behave accordingly. However, praise connotes respect, caring, kindness and appreciation…all qualities that human beings respond positively too.
However this does not happen just by telling your child that he is being “good”. What does that really mean to him anyway? He knows you are happy with him…but why? The KEY to praise is to BE SPECIFIC. Tell your child what you are pleased with. This will help him know what to do again!
When you tell a child to “be good” or that something he did was “good” you are not giving him enough information to understand and receive the praise. He may not even connect it with the action you are praising. Think first about what you like that he just did and then tell him about it. For example if he just remembered to look before he crossed the street you can say, “I like the way you waited for me to crossed the street. That is the safe way to cross.” Or if your child is finally sitting down for supper you can praise him by saying, “I like the way you sat down with us for supper. Now we can all eat together.” When your child is helping you with something tell him by saying, “I am so happy you are helping me with. It makes is so much easier when we work together. Thank you.” If you notice the praise statement is usually at least two sentences long. This is important. You are first telling the child what he did and then why it was good. Not only are you giving much more information than a simple sentence, you are also modeling and building essential language and vocabulary skills. He will hear the detail of what you liked, store this in his memory, and do it again because it felt good to be praised for it. Remember, to praise him again!
Introduce the word “Proud”. This is a word that children can learn quickly and which makes them feel good about themselves and what they do. Children want you to be “proud” of them. You can tell your child how proud you are for the small things as well as the big. What you focus on will bring understanding to your child about what you value. You can be proud of your child for saying a kind word or helping a sibling…just as much as for achieving something at school or sports. There are so many ways to be proud of your child. Tell him!
Praise also works specifically with situations that are not discipline related. If we just tell a child that his painting is “good or pretty”…. you are not being specific enough. He may or may not even hear you. But…if you take the time to really look at the painting or sculpture your children brought home from school and talk to him about…this he will hear and remember. You might tell him how you like the way the colors mixed together or the shapes he used. You might even ask him what he likes about it too. Start a conversation of mutual praise. The more detail you put in your praise and support the more information your child receives and understands.
Watch out for constantly defining your child or his behavior as naughty or negative. Dwelling on mistakes can make children feel like a failure and can actually encourage disruptive or aggressive behavior. If you define your child as such he will try to “fulfill the prophecy.” But it can also because the child is discouraged or lost hope of receiving praise. The child may also test you by acting out just to prove that he really is as “naughty” as you say he is.
There are always positiveactions even within the negative. Celebrate those! Tell your child when you are pleased when he stopped throwing something and put it down gently by saying “I like how you gently put the toy in the box. Now it is safe from harm.” You can even add a bit of silliness to it all by pretending that now the toy won’t get a headache because it didn’t get thrown! Children respond well to pretend and the lightness can often diffuse a difficult situation when going “head to head” with each doesn’t work.
Find what your child does well… or is interested in…and focus on that. Support his good work with clear and specific praise. Interestingly, most young children really do want to help. Ask him to help you with something that he is interested in. Say that you really need his help and skills to do something. In fact, you can invite him to “teach” you what he knows. This will help him feel focused and useful.
Don’t forget non-verbal praise. Your child watches your expressions and is very attuned to what you are “saying” with your smiles and frowns. A good smile or a nod says you approve of what he is doing and encourages him to do it again. The “thumbs up” sign is a fun one for children to learn and says “you are doing great”.
Praise can solve a lot of problems if you are consistent, clear and specific about what you are praising. Remember, you are modeling kindness and positive behavior that you want your child to emulate. What would happen if the entire world decided to be kind to every living being?