Ask An Expert / Parenting Styles

Does it matter HOW I praise my child?

Yes, there are ways to make praise more effective

Melanie A. Fernandez, PhD, ABPP

I know I should reinforce good behavior, but does it matter HOW I praise my child?

There are certainly ways to make praise more effective in teaching, as well as encouraging good behaviors and improving self-esteem in children.

The more descriptive your praise is, the better. So instead of saying, “Good job!” caregivers should specify what was a good job. For instance, “Good job sharing your toys with your brother!” When you’re specific about what a child did well, you’re more likely to bring attention to the child’s effort-as opposed to the outcome of the effort.

It’s important to recognize that praising effort is not the same as praising success; praising your child for being smart doesn’t teach what behavior was so smart. More benefit comes from labeling the smart behavior: “It was so smart how you built a base on your tower before starting to add the other pieces.”

When a child is learning a new behavior, it’s important to offer praise whenever the behavior happens; once the child has learned the behavior, continuing to offer praise, but less frequently, helps the child maintain the behavior learned. Caregivers should be looking for opportunities to praise kids’ positive behaviors — even the behaviors they think kids should already know and be doing regularly.

Finally, praise should be genuine.