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The Point of Praise

The Point of Praise

As a behavior specialist and a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) coach at my school, much of my job focuses on how praise and positive reinforcement can help improve behavior and progress. Add three of my own kids in a variety of sports, dance, and school and I often feel like much of my spoken words include some form of “good job.”

So how much does a “good job” really help our kids with motivation and success? How can we make praise more effective? Is there such thing as too much? If you’ve ever wondered how praise really helps our children, read on!

1. Praise effort instead of talent

In general, there are two types of praise- personal praise and effort-based praise. Personal praise focuses on the personal talents or strengths of a child, such as a natural athletic ability. While important, the problem with this type of praise is that it can indicate that there is no room for growth when a child already has a natural talent in a certain area.

On the other hand, effort-based praise focuses on the work that a child put into reaching a goal. It can be geared towards all areas of a child’s life, including natural talents and the areas they may struggle more. The American Psychological Association (APA) even says that based on research, effort-based praise is more effective in creating resilience and persistence.

To focus on effort-based praise, think about a child’s persistence, work ethic, the time they put into doing something well, and then utilize praise as it relates to those areas (rather than the overall outcome or a personal talent they don’t necessarily have to work hard to excel at).

2. Find the unique 

“You’re amazing” can get boring and kids can become immune to praise that is the same repeated statement over and over. After hearing it so many times, the same praise is not going to hold value to a child. McKenna Myers makes come great suggestions about how to make praise more unique, including the following:

  • Comment on how your child does not think the same way as others and how it’s a good thing to have a mind of your own.
  • Focus on the special traits that makes him different than others.
  • Stress how you love them how they are and how their differences are part of what you love about them.

Need some different go-to phrases other than the normal “good job?” Check this great list out. Keeping your words fun and fresh can keep kids excited to receive them.

3. Break down large goals

This holds true for so many different ages, skill levels, and goals. Large goals or difficult skills can often seem overwhelming to little minds. Breaking down a large goal into the smaller skills needed to achieve it can make it seem much more achievable- and can help children more quickly reach the end goal.

This can also be helpful for kids who struggle a bit more in a certain area or who live with disabilities. Instead of focusing on praising the completion of a large task, a task can be broken down into smaller steps and when one small step mastered, praise can be given.

For more great examples and ideas of how to best break down tasks into smaller parts, go here. Just remember that praising while children demonstrate independence (no matter how small the step) is key!

4. Don’t overdo a good thing

Research has shown that excessive praise can actually be more harmful than helpful to children. Excessive praise can backfire and children can become so reliant on it that internal motivation decreases and they can become less confident and resilient. As children get older, they may turn from seeking out praise from their parents to their peers, which can be a dangerous ground for them to walk.

Instead of volume, focus on making praise meaningful and specific to effort. Some great ways to do this include:

  • Connect hard work with noticeable improvement
  • Acknowledge effort, even when it’s unsuccessful
  • Talk about the journey involved in which a skill that may have been difficult becomes easy.
  • Encourage while they are working; not just when it’s finished.

Happy praising, parents!

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

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Leah P

Leah is a big believer that our future lies in raising children who are empathetic and supportive of differences. Leah enjoys finding the humor in parenting and sharing it as a way to encourage mothers to support each other. Once a Division I athlete, Leah still enjoys running and participating in races with her oldest son... even though she is much slower these days. New to the blogging world, Leah shares her experiences as a mom, behavior specialist, runner, and everything in between at
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