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Praise -  The Guide to PraisePraise - The Guide to Praise

You want to support, encourage and motivate your child through her learning and development. However, recent research and media attention tells you about the dangers of praise and how you can "get it all wrong”. How do you get it right? The answer lies in understanding what the research is really saying.

A closer look at the actual research shows that it is not praise that’s the ‘problem’, but the wrong sort of praise.

Simply put, praising your child’s effort is going to have a much more positive impact in the long run than praising their achievements.

In fact the right sort of praise is incredibly important to supporting your child’s development. So we should also keep in mind the important role of praise in childhood:

  • Children learn through positive feedback. Especially young children, as it is positive encouragement that helps them feel motivated and confident.
  • Praise contributes to making your child feel important and noticed, that what she is doing is significant and that she is in fact capable of doing things herself
  • Praise is quite a wide term, and I think it often comes down to the way you apply it. It’s useful to remember that sincere, specific and mostly "low-key” praise encourages your child as she is working hard at new tasks, skills and challenges.
  • Finally, and we now we get into one of the key messages from the recent storm of discussions: praise works well if your approach is "praise the journey”. This means, you praise for efforts rather than just the results.

Young children constantly face situations of trial and error as they are learning all the time. It is therefore important that we equip them with the ability to cope with these situations, ensuring they remain confident and keep putting the effort in until they have mastered the new skill.

You are already a great source of motivation and happiness for your child. With the key practical tips outlined here, you can discover both what you want to continue doing and fresh ideas you can add to your approach to praise.

Practical guidance for parents

Our practical guidance is based in science. Here are 5 everyday actions you can adopt with your child to encourage positive, lasting behaviours.

1. Be sincere, specific and timely. Praise that is spontaneous at the time of your child’s activity, or right after, will be positive and motivating. Be specific about what you saw your child do and how or why it was good. With older children, in particular, ensure your praise is genuine and earned (your child will know).

2. Praise effort. Praise your child’s efforts and other things he has control over and is able to change (e.g. strategies used to accomplish something, or being kind, generous and showing respect for others’ feelings or belongings)
  • "You worked so hard at getting up that ladder all by yourself!” Or with young children, simply describe "you went up that ladder all by yourself!”
  • "you are being very generous sharing your snack with your friend”

3. Be descriptive when you praise efforts and achievements, e.g. "I like the way you coloured that clown’s hair” or "I like how you let the other child go on the swing before you”. Rather than just saying "Brilliant” or similar. Descriptive feedback is specific and conveys standards (just make sure they are realistic, and not "that’s the best I’ve ever seen”)

4. Avoid pushing the open door. Notice whether you are providing praise too often for activities or tasks your child already enjoys doing. She may already be motivated to keep going and keep working harder.

5. Keep it low-key. Use lots of smiles, hugs and noticing efforts, but try to save bigger celebrations and more ‘praise for excellence’ for greater accomplishments (match the praise to the deed).

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