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Photo by “Pippalou,” Morguefile

How to Praise Children to Get Them to Listen

Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I worked as a child and adolescent therapist. And I would do this little exercise with parents to help them understand the importance of *praise*…

Think back to any teachers or bosses whom you’ve encountered in your life.  What makes the good ones stand out from the bad ones?

Chances are that your favorite teacher or boss acknowledged the things you did correctly more than your least favorite teacher or boss.  And chances are that you wanted to please the teacher or boss who gave you more positive feedback but was still firm when he or she needed to be.

The same principle can be applied to parenting.

When kids have a good relationship with their parents and receive praise for the good things they do, they want to please their parents and receive more and more praise.  Therefore, they’re more likely to do those good behaviors again.  As a result, you can get your children to listen so much better by giving them praise and positive attention.  But first…

 

What is Praise?

To give praise means to acknowledge someone for a “good” quality or for doing something “good.”  Praise doesn’t have to be given in the form of words, but rather it can be given through non-verbal gestures like hugs and thumbs-ups.

Praise and encouragement help children (and people in general) to feel appreciated and to learn what they need to keep doing to succeed.  Therefore, you should aim to praise your child very frequently.

In fact, for every time you correct your child, you should be praising or reinforcing your child’s good behaviors at least 5 times.

And there’s actually a little bit of technique involved with praising your child correctly.  So here are some important techniques to keep in mind when praising your child.  Use these techniques regularly, and you’ll start to see a lot of improvement in your child’s listening and behavior.
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How to Use Praise to Get Your Child to Listen:

DO’s:

  • DO start praising your child for small behaviors if your child does not listen very well. It may seem like he doesn’t deserve to be rewarded for such small behaviors, but you have to start somewhere!
  • DO praise your child immediately after the good behavior.  You want your child to understand the connection between the good behavior and the praise.
  • DO be enthusiastic and specific in telling the child what he did correctly so that he knows exactly what behavior he should continue doing. Therefore, instead of saying “Good job,” try something like “Wow! Nice job picking up your toys the first time I asked!”
  • DO keep in mind that there are other ways to praise your child, including giving hugs, high-fives, smiles, thumbs-ups, and handshakes.
  • DO praise your child consistently and try to get other caregivers on board too if possible.
  • DO practice giving your child simple commands that he is likely to follow through with, and then praise him each time he listens.  This will give him a taste of success and get him wanting to listen to commands more often.
  • DO provide praise to your child once he is starting to do what you ask (even if he has not yet completed the task) or starting to calm down after a tantrum.  This will help to get the ball rolling and let him know that he’s on the right track.
  • And again, remember… DO praise your child at least 5 times for every time that you need to correct him or provide negative feedback.

DON’Ts:

  • DON’T set expectations too high or make it too difficult for your child to earn your praise.
  • DON’T give your child a certain type of praise that you know he dislikes.  Doing this will actually decrease the good behavior, not increase it.
  • DON’T accidentally reward negative behavior by laughing, praising, or giving too much attention to it.
  • DON’T wait too long to deliver praise. Your child needs to be able to make a connection between the good thing that he did and the reward in order for him to want to do that good thing again.
  • DON’T use sarcasm or backhanded compliments while praising your child (Incorrect: “Good job cleaning your room. I wish you would have done it the first time I asked.”).

Sometimes, it can be easy to get caught up in either trying to figure out what rewards to use or what to take away from your children in order to discipline them.  However, a lot of times kids do just fine with a little praise and acknowledgment.

The tricky part is reminding yourself to praise often, especially when your kid is struggling with listening overall.

Finally, you don’t want your child to become too dependent on praise, so just remember to increase your expectations for earning praise as he gets better with listening.  And sometimes encouraging your child (“You can do it!”) before he does something can take the place of waiting to praise him afterward.

How about a cheatsheet to help you remember these tips?   You can download my Praise To-Do List to hang on your fridge here!

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Disclaimer

Although I was a therapist, I am not your therapist or your child’s therapist.  Reading this post does not enter you into a client-therapist relationship with me.  The content in this post is meant to be used as a general guideline and has not been individually tailored to the needs of you and your child.  If you are in need of therapeutic services, please seek the support of a mental health counselor or behavior specialist.

References: My information comes from years of training on Applied Behavior Analysis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and other evidence-based techniques. I also like to refer to Russell Barkley and Alan Kazdin.

*This post contains an affiliate ad below, which means I receive a small commission if you click the ad and make a purchase.  But this comes at no extra cost to you.

2 Comments on How to Praise Children to Get Them to Listen

  1. Thanks for saying the bit about praise is more than verbal. I noticed this first during our first attempt at potty training, that my son actually seems less motivated when I give him a lot of verbal praise. Almost like it creates too much pressure for him. So, I limit praise to saying once “I’m so proud of you for cleaning up your toys” or “Good job for putting your pee in the potty” instead of several times and making a big deal out of it. I will focus more on giving him more hugs and pats on the back because physical touch is most definitely one of his love languages and not one of mine. Thanks!

    • Hi, Lauren! You make such a good point in noting that just because we as parents might not like a certain type of praise, it doesn’t mean our kids won’t enjoy it. It sounds like you have a good game plan. Let me know how it works out for you! Thanks so much for reading. 🙂

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