Hi moms! Thank you for joining me today.
I love that you tune into my ramblings each week. I try to come up with topics that I believe will help you personally, with your children, in your relationships, and will help you feel supported and strengthened.
The review I would like to read this week is from Cindy. She said, “I was listening to Heather’s podcast on Lists today while I was working on house chores, and my daughter was present. She went and got a white board and made herself a list for the week. I just had to share.” Thank you for sharing that, Cindy. I love it. I love that even the future mommies are listening, and I hope that they are learning right along with you.
Today we are talking about praising your child. Praise is when you tell your child that you like what they’re doing or how they’re behaving. You might say, “You’re talking so kindly to your younger sister. I love it” or “You worked hard on that project for school” or “Thank you for doing the dishes without being asked.”
Praise is so good for your child’s confidence and sense of self. It also, usually, makes them want to repeat the behaviors you praised them for. And there’s just no question about it–praise works. It’s what kids need.
Interestingly enough, brain studies have shown that we respond to social approval in much the same way that we respond to monetary rewards.
By using praise, you’re showing your child how to think and talk positively about themselves. This is so important, because as humans we seem to have a lot of negative self-talk going on in our brains, and not enough positive self-talk. You are helping your child with this when you give them positive words about themselves. You’re helping your child learn how to recognize when they do well and how to feel proud of themselves.
Praise sounds different at different ages, of course. You might praise a younger child for sharing their toys with their younger brother or for leaving the park nicely when asked. And you might praise a teenager for coming home at an agreed time, or for starting homework without being reminded.
The best type of praise is descriptive, or specific praise. This is when you tell your child exactly what it is that you like. For example, “I like the way you’ve found a spot for everything in your room”. This helps your child understand exactly what it is that they’ve done well. It’s also more genuine and more specific than praise like, “You’re a good boy”. That is good to hear—and don’t keep yourself from saying that, sometimes—but, try to be specific whenever possible.
And praise doesn’t only need to be given when they’ve done something or completed a task. Encouragement is also a type of praise. And it’s a really important type of praise. It is praising effort, this is called process praise. You are praising the process, not necessarily just the outcome. For example, “You worked so hard on that math homework – well done”. Praising effort is so important, and it can motivate your child and encourage them to try hard in the future.
You can even use encouragement before your child does something. For example, you can say, “Show me how well you can put your toys away” or “I know you’re nervous about the test, but you’ve studied so hard, so matter how it turns out, you’ve done your best”.
These types of things are great for kids to hear. They know that you’re behind them and proud of their efforts, even if it doesn’t go as well as they would like it to.
Some children, especially those who are less confident than others, need more encouragement than others. If you feel that your child is discouraged, step up the praise, step up the encouragement. Watch their face brighten as they hang on to your words that they need so much.
When praise is focused on effort, children are more likely to see trying hard as a good thing in itself. And that’s what we want. We want our children to try their hardest. And as long as they make a great effort, that’s really all that matters.
They’re also more likely to keep trying and to be optimistic when they face challenges.
When thought of this way, praising for a job well done, for effort in an ongoing uncompleted task, or even something that hasn’t even been done yet, praise can be used whenever and wherever.
There have been, and still are, some traditional cultures, around the world, where parents avoid praise. They worry that too much praise would inflate the ego, make their children overconfident, or too full of themselves.
But today, things are different. Many people believe that praise is an effective way to reinforce good behavior. And I definitely take the side of praise is a good thing. A very, very good thing. I have seen troubled and defiant children do a complete 180 when consistent praise and encouragement from their parents is introduced into their world.
Do you have a child who has been giving you a really hard time lately? It’s just human nature for us to notice the difficult behaviors more than positive behaviors. And we are always getting on our children about those negative behaviors. But just try a little experiment–try spending a whole day discovering the good things your child is doing and good choices they are making. Really be on the lookout for the times when your child is behaving in positive ways. And then try to point them out to your child. Tell them how great it is that they tried something all by themselves, even if it didn’t work out the way they wanted to. Catch them being kind to a sibling and make sure they know how much that means to you and their sibling, and they are going to think great things about themselves!
You’ll start to see their discouragement, which is causing a lot of their negative behaviors lift.
I always like to say, “What You Focus on Grows.” If you focus on the good, you will find more of it. And they will love how it feels to be recognized for their efforts. You’ll see it in their face. This small change in your parenting will make worlds of difference to your child and their behavior will most likely start to improve immediately.
And as your child gets older, they will need just as much praise, but we do need to be a little more careful with the kind of praise we’re giving them. They are maturing and getting pretty savvy with analyzing our beliefs and our motives, so they can spot insincere praise and become very sensitive to it.
This actually starts to happen at about age 5. At age 5, they are just starting out with the analysis of exactly where your praise is coming from and if it is genuine. And as they get older, they get better and better at spotting insincerity.
In fact, I will never forget, once I said to my son, “Great job with that!” and he just stopped and looked at me, for a long time, and then he said, “Wait, are you being serious or sarcastic?” And I learned a huge lesson that day…My praise can sound like sarcasm, especially when I am very often sarcastic (I think it’s funny sarcastic, but I have learned that sarcasm, I guess, is the lowest form of humor, so now I question my whole personality). But I had to really explain myself to my son that day. I had to tell him, “Yes! That was a great job. I’m so sorry that it sounds just like my sarcasm.” So, if we’re not careful with our tone and really saying it from the heart, which I really felt like I was doing, maybe if I had been even more specific with what I felt like was a great job that would have sounded a little less sarcastic.
But so that’s why we have to be a little bit careful. Kids, as they get older, can start to sniff out any insincerity. But don’t let this stop you from starting. It might feel a little insincere at first, especially if you are new to dishing out the praise to your child. You might feel cheesy, or as teenagers today say, “cringy,” but do it anyway. It’s the right thing to do. It’s so important to let your child know how much you like what you’re seeing and love who they’re becoming. And even if you’re not quite sure you are loving who they’re becoming, find those behaviors that you want them to develop and look for them, even in their tiniest form, and praise those behaviors so that they can grow. Maybe your child is an absolute slob and they like to leave their wet towel on the floor, try to find that one time that they hung it up and praise that. The idea is that that felt so good to your child that they will continue to do it more and more. And you can do this with lots of little, tiny behaviors. Just catch them doing good; catch them making a good choice. And let them know about it.
There is so much out there about how praise can be counterproductive and you can create a narcissist if you give them this kind of praise versus that kind of praise; or if you tell your child they’re smart, then when they don’t do well with something, they feel like it must be because they aren’t smart and all this praise stuff backfires. So make sure to do this and not that. We are supposed to avoid comparison praise, and conditional praise, and ability praise. We are supposed to avoid easy task praise or overpraising. But honestly, it’s too many rules to keep track of. I truly believe that even the “wrong” kind of praise can be more motivating than no praise at all.
And as somewhat of an expert on narcissism, and causes of narcissism, praising a child does not a narcissist make. So just let that notion go right now. There is so much more that goes into it, and I won’t get into it right now of course, but loving your child with your actions, with your words, with your affection…that love will actually save them from developing mental and personality disorders.
Praise and encouragement are a way for us to show our child how much we love and appreciate them with our words. That’s all. We don’t need to make it hugely complicated; we just need to start doing it.
If I tried to be perfect with my praise, I’d be so confused and tongue tied and fearful of messing up that my children would probably hear nothing positive from me.
If we just remember two things to make our praise really hit home with our children, it’s 1) Just try to keep it sincere; and 2) whenever possible try to praise them for the process, not always the outcome. But any praise is better than no praise at all.
And just real quick, something we don’t really think of is to try to praise and encourage your child even through their failures. When something discouraging happens to our child, we’re so busy trying to problem solve and dust them off, that we forget to take the opportunity to talk about their efforts and the different things they learned through it all. We need to teach them that hard work always accomplishes something. They’re going to learn something or build something or meet someone they may have not met. Even if they don’t get the results they wanted, there’s always something they have learned in the process of their hard work. These are huge teaching moments that will last them a lifetime. In those moments of failure, let’s try to teach them how this is just part of life and part of success and part of becoming who we are to become, and not anything to be ashamed of.
I wanted to give you some of your words to get you started with great praising phrases so that you can start encouraging and motivating your child. Just go over to my website the-mommywhisperer.com, to the Resources section, and you’ll find it in Podcast Mentionables. I really hope it helps. But don’t worry about using the words I give you. Just love your child and tell them so. Tell them what you’re proud of; tell them what you notice; tell them the behaviors you like.
And adults love praise, too. So try this with your significant other, also, and see what happens.
So although there is a lot of chatter about the right way and the wrong way to praise a child; if it comes from your heart you really can’t go wrong.
They need to know of our love for them, constantly. It’s that love from you, most of all, that will help them turn into the kind, responsible human you hope they will become. And praise and encouragement are just some of the many ways you can let them know how much you love them.
And just remember Rudolf Dreikurs words, “A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water.”
I appreciate your time today, I hope this was helpful, and I’ll talk to you next week.