praise: 4 ways to do it effectively

Updated: May 27, 2020

It’s a natural instinct of teachers and parents to praise their children - or at least it should be. If we reflect on how we do it in order to tweak it to be more effective, we can use praise as a way of making children feel fully accepted by understanding their value is not only based on the work they do. Using praise to give information about the progress or choices children make works as constructive feedback. Here are four ways to praise more effectively.

1. name what you are praising

Instead of the generic “good boy”, “good girl”, “super job”, “well done”, etc. say: “you listened really well there”, or “you got frustrated but solved it in the end” or “that was a really kind thing to say because… ” Children are often not developed enough to self-reflect and name complex, abstract feelings. When you name what you are praising you increase their self-awareness and improve their self-worth.

2. pay attention and create discussion

Talk to a child about what they are doing, even if they are not especially chatty or forthcoming.

Make comments to create discussion like “how did you choose that …”, “that’s interesting …”, “tell me more …” Attention is your most valuable resource and therefore your most rewarding one - that’s the praise. Even if you think the work they are doing is not especially good, you show them their value is not based on the quality of work they produce.

3. praise privately, not just publicly

When you praise is as important as what and how you praise. If praising a child publicly might cause rivalry from siblings or bullying from peers, pick a private moment. Say, “I noticed and appreciated your honesty yesterday, but wanted to tell you privately because …” Praising privately also creates trust for further, possibly deeper, discussions.

4. save over-the-top praise for something truly outstanding

Continuous applause, cheerleading and the you-can-do-wrong approach to praise, especially when it is linked to achievement, just makes children anxious because they become afraid to fail. They stop trying new things through this fear of failure. They blame others when things don’t work out because they are not robust enough to own their failure. Thoughtful and judicious use of praise is wise, but it doesn’t mean you can’t go over the top … sometimes. And if you are known for your measured, thoughtful praise, can you imagine what effect some over-the-top praise will have, coming from you?

And finally... as always when it comes to interacting with other people, whether you are a parent, a teacher, a human being … it starts with you. It's so easy to slip unconsciously into the patterns, behaviors and expectations we all get used to. Some self-reflection is useful, but it's easier to do it with the help of someone who has done all the thinking and can explain it well. So some highly recommended reading is Philippa Perry's book "The Book you Wish your Parents had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did)". I read it all and find I keep coming back to it as a reference resource.

Disclaimer. This recommendation is a purely personal one without any kind of affiliations.

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