3 easy steps to developing your descriptive praise
July 25, 2019
I talk with parents quite often about how praising their child is one of the best ways to encourage positive behavior and build strong bonds. In my experience with families, and in becoming familiar with the outcomes that result from positive reinforcement, I’ve noticed a few key strategies that can help parents take their child-praising abilities to the next level.
Being intentional with praise
As a parent, I find there are days – e.g. long days at work or difficult life circumstances – where it can be challenging to praise my child. However, despite being tired, stressed or overwhelmed, I do try my best to consciously remind myself of the importance of being intentional with praise. It’s easy to find faults in our children, especially when we have experience our own recent hardship; however, by intentionally praising them, you’ll likely observe your child doing well. By being intentionally present and available, parents play a key role in fostering a strong family bond with their children.
Practicing descriptive praise
Praise is great – but descriptive praise takes praising your child to a whole new level; and it can be as simple as observing good behavior and describing what your child is doing well. For example, imagine your child is playing with toys calmly and quietly. General praise in this situation could be saying, “Good job.” While it’s better than saying nothing, enhancing your praise by describing what your child is doing so well can elicit a more positive emotional response. In this situation, descriptive praise might be, “Good job playing with your toys so calmly and quietly.”
Some other common examples: “Great job brushing your teeth without being asked” or “It looks like you’re really working hard to complete your homework.”
Beware the Double Negative
Another technique to consider is listening to how you’re saying your descriptive praise. Sometimes – and even with good intentions – we can unintentionally add a double negative ending. For example, “Good job playing with your toys so calmly and quietly… that was so much better than last week.” In this situation, a positive description off play was given with a negative description of prior poor behaviour, therefore creating a double negative.
Like everything else in parenting, strengthening your praising abilities will take consistency, application and some humble mistakes. In time, however, you will find yourself observing your child doing well and find more and more opportunity to offer descriptive praise. It’ll become another useful and consistent skill in your growing palette of effective parenting tools.