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Use Praise to Encourage Good Behaviors and Teach New Skills

Discipline with Positive Reinforcement


Close up of mother and daughter playing pat-a-cake
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Praise is a simple yet effective discipline strategy that increases positive behaviors in kids. By paying attention to positive behaviors and showing kids that you notice when they are behaving, praise can motivate kids to improve their behaviors and continue to be compliant.

When creating a behavior management plan to discipline your child, praise is an excellent positive consequence that can improve behaviors. Praise works well when it is combined with other discipline techniques such as time out, ignoring, and reward systems.

Kids love to get attention from adults. However, good behaviors often go unnoticed. This can lead to kids misbehaving as an attempt to gain attention. And often, this is an effective way for them to get the results they are looking for. Give kids positive attention and they will strive to improve their behaviors.

Imagine standing in a room with three children. Two of the children are playing quietly with toys. One child is constantly poking the others, running around wildly, jumping on furniture and screeching. Which kid would be getting the most of your attention? If you are like most people, you would say the kid who is misbehaving.

Praise can help reverse the process and give kids the attention they are seeking for their positive behaviors. So instead of giving the misbehaving child the attention, kids are given praise when they are behaving So instead of telling the misbehaving child to stop acting out, the quiet children get told how well they are doing.

Behaviors Praise Can Help With

Praise can help with a variety of behaviors. Almost any behavior you want to see more of can respond well to praise. It just requires that you “catch your child being good.”

Praise can be effective in helping kids do things such as play independently, wait patiently, follow directions, get along with others, and other positive behaviors. It just requires that you make it known that you have taken notice of their good behaviors.

It can be particularly effective when you have more than one child. Instead of giving the misbehaving child attention, turn to the child who is following the rules and say something such as “Susie, I just love the way you are sitting there and eating your dinner so quietly.” It can motivate the other children to follow suite in order to gain your attention.

Praise can also help children learn new skills and address problematic behaviors. For example, if you have a child who gets angry easily, it can be helpful to praise his efforts when he is trying something difficult. Say to him, “Bobby, I like the way that you keep rebuilding the tower so patiently after it falls.” This can help encourage more patience.

Make Praise Effective

In order for praise to be the most effective, it should be given as immediately as possible. It should also be given out frequently. If you have a child who is playing quietly it can be helpful to praise him every couple of minutes initially to reinforce this positive behavior.

Praise should also be specific. Make it clear to your child the reason you are praising. For example, instead of saying “Good job,” say something such as “Great job putting your plate in the sink right when I asked you to.” This makes it clear that you are praising his immediate compliance.

Frame your praise positively. Instead of saying, “Nice job not whining,” say, “I’m proud of you for handling that so well when I said that you couldn’t go outside.” Point out the behaviors you want to see more of, not the behaviors you hope to diminish.

Common Concerns About Praise

Sometimes parents raise concerns that praise will lead to their kids feeling entitled or becoming spoiled. It’s important that you offer genuine praise and that you use it as a teaching tool in order for it to be effective. If you are constantly telling your kids things such as “You’re the best soccer player out there,” or “You’re the smartest kid ever,” it isn’t likely to be helpful. However, if you praise your child genuinely it won’t spoil them but will instead motivate them to keep doing well.

Another common concern about praise is that it will have the opposite outcome. Parents sometimes say, “Why would I want to interrupt my child’s quiet play to point out that he is doing well? Won’t this just make him stop?” The answer is no, praising your child often will encourage him to continue doing more of the same. If he isn’t used to receiving praise, initially it may interrupt what he is doing but this will likely resolve fairly quickly.

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