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Praise: A Powerful Parenting Tool

Praise from someone who cares about us is the most powerful reinforcement. M&Ms, check marks, stickers, money have their place. And praise from someone who cares about us is the most powerful reinforcement of behavior. Alan Kazdin, PhD., the author of 49 books for professional audiences on topics of parenting and child rearing, child psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral treatments, and interpersonal violence, shares that the most powerful means of praising consists of three actions:

1) Praise the behavior, not the child. Your children are not “good girls” or “good boys” because of their behavior. They are always “good.”

2) Praise specific to the behavior you are praising – Notice, “praise specific to the behavior you are praising.”   Praise the behavior. “Specific to the behavior”- Examples:

a) “Nice job setting the table.”

b) “You really worked hard on your math homework.”

c) “I saw you follow the rule, ‘Measure twice, cut once’ while building your birdhouse. Way to go!”

d) “I really appreciate you keeping an eye on your little sister while I was on the phone involved in a long and important phone call. Thanks.”

3) Touch. This can be in any form and does not need to be intense. It may be in the form of a pat on the back, shoulder, etc. It may be a “high five.” It may be a quick hug.

These three actions, accompanying each other is the most powerful means of praising your child (anybody, actually).

I mentioned in an earlier post (1-2-3! Self-care and Parenting… ): What we notice, we can remember. Praising your children, specific to the behavior being praised helps them notice and, in turn, remember their good (the praised) work. What we remember, we can repeat.

I believe and observe the two most powerful means of influencing another’s behavior are:

  • modeling the behavior you wish to see in the other; and
  • praising the behavior you wish to see in the other.

The above is another example of a simple (few moving parts) though not necessarily easy means towards effective parenting and towards helping you have things the way you want (aka “effective self-care”). Quite demanding, but worth the trouble. See for yourself!!

I believe that myriad skills/skill sets comprise all human behavior (from tying your shoes, to riding a bike, to making friends, to keeping friends, to entertaining yourself). And all skills improve with repetition/practice. Do not conclude after one attempt of the above three-part “praise communication” that it doesn’t work. I believe you will notice quickly of its power. I believe you will notice after few repetitions your improved ability to implement this powerful method. Run the study. See for yourself that it’s worth the trouble.


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