Way to slide into home! That was your best move all year.”
“Wow, it’s really terrific how you cleared your spot after dinner.”
“You hung your backpack on the green hook because your work is done and packed — awesome!”
“I loved watching you ride your bike with your friends. You were having so much fun and being careful.”
Compliments are extremely powerful. Complimenting someone shows gratitude, respect, hope, trust and appreciation. But it’s not just about sending positive vibes: studies have shown that being paid a compliment can be as motivating as being paid cash!
When it comes to raising or teaching children, compliments take on an entirely new level of importance. Earlier this year, Peg Dawson, Ed.D., taught us that the single greatest factor in improving a child’s executive functioning skills is praise.
Unfortunately, the worse a child’s executive functioning skills, the less likely he or she is to receive positive feedback. This means that many children who could most benefit from hearing compliments actually end up receiving the opposite.
As Peg taught us, we as parents should aim to offer three compliments for every correction. Those of you who tried this technique probably realized that it is hard work. And, let’s face it: this cycle begins and continues because it is difficult to compliment someone who is frequently messing up.
(To say “Great job, dude — I am so glad you left your muddy sneakers on the couch!” is not really a compliment… otherwise, my son would be brimming with praise!)
Compliments must be genuine to be most effective. Children are excellent judges of authenticity, and faking a compliment can be worse than saying nothing at all.
So, what is a parent to do?
Not to worry… I’m about to share with you “The Quaker School at Horsham’s Guide to Positively Powerful Praise.”
(As an aside: when I was a journalist, my publisher held a disdain for alliteration. Now that I am a head of school, I can absolutely alliterate with abandon and alacrity!)
Here are five steps I encourage parents to take to deliver Positively Powerful Praise:
#1: Comment with a clear expression of praise: otherwise known as a compliment.
“I saw you…”
“I really like the way you…”
“Way to go, you…”
Children thrive on positive feedback, and we can reinforce the actions or behaviors we would like to see more by pointing them out.
#2: Name the skill.
“…took out your agenda when you got home.”
“…helped set the table.”
We want to make sure our children know we are not simply proud because they are “being good.” By verbalizing what you noticed about their behavior in very specific terms, children will learn exactly what is acceptable, appropriate and commendable — and what is not.
#3: Give the reason.
“….. because now we can figure out together what you need to do tonight. This will help you get your work done faster.”
It’s important for children to learn the consequences of their actions – both negative and positive. This will help them build an intrinsic value system that motivates them to act in good character and work hard.
#4: Measure comprehension.
“Do you see why this will help both of us?”
“Do you understand why I am proud of you?”
We all make mistakes or poor decisions, and we need to help our children realize why an action, comment or behavior was a good choice or a poor choice. This will help them learn to discern between the two and make better choices in the future.
#5: State the reward.
“Now you can play Xbox for half an hour when your work is done.”
“Now our family can enjoy a bike ride together because we worked together to clean up.”
Fun activities should be a privilege to children, which they “earn” when they behave in a respectful and responsible manner. Incentive is a great motivator for children and adults alike!
How have you encouraged your child with praise, and what effects have you seen? Let us know in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook.