9 Tips for Praising Children in the Modern World

Published June 15, 2021
Girl playing with stacking tower

Everyone likes to hear how great of a job they are doing. Positive praise is reinforcing, motivating, and beneficial to emotional growth and development. Praising children is a significant action for adults to remember when raising or working with children.

Positive Effects of Praising Children

Using reaffirming positive praise with kids provides benefits for children in their younger years and adult years.

  • Encourages a sense of self-worth
  • Grow to treat others in a positive manner
  • Children learn to put forth better efforts
  • Builds self-confidence so that children can take risks and try new things
  • Reduces negative behavior

Things to Remember When Positively Praising Children

When praising children, remember a few key things to help you know how to praise your child and help make all that positive praise completely worthwhile.

Focus on the Small Steps

Many times parents become fixated on the overall goal. They create a goal for their child, for example, tying a shoe, and then they withhold their praise until the task is achieved. It's best to focus on the process and not the end result. Reward steps and progress towards an end goal with positive praise. Efforts in the right direction are just as important as achieving the task itself.

Young child tying shoe laces with colourful socks

Keep a Quality Ratio

You definitely want to be using more positive praise than negative praise, and the ratio of positive praise to negative comments has varied over the years. Generally speaking, parents and educators want to stick to a 5:1 ratio or a 4:1 ratio, meaning for every one negative comment given by an adult, a child should receive four or five positive comments.

Process Over Person

There is person praise, and there is process praise. Person praise includes saying things like:

  • You're so smart.
  • You're so good at soccer.

Process praise involves praising the effort, the action, the growth, or the overcoming of a challenge rather than the person performing the task. This is the more effective type of praise. It encourages kids to work at something, try hard and push themselves to develop, grow and expand their minds. Examples of process praise are:

  • Learning to write your name is really tough, but look at how well you are holding your pencil! You've almost got it!
  • Learning to tie your shoes takes time. You're very close! Let's keep working on it and you will have this down in no time.
Happy father and son playing soccer

Pair Verbal Praise With Proper Body Language

How many times have you hurled some positive praise your kid's way while doing 100 other things at the same time? Hollering, "Good job!" while you carry a massive load of laundry up the stairs isn't going to carry the same impact as looking into your child's eyes and telling them what they did that was so great or helpful. Pair verbal praise with eye contact and welcoming body language.

Be Careful Overdoing It

You would think that when it comes to praise, the more, the better, but in actuality, too much praise can do the opposite of what you intend. There is such a thing as oversaturation, and when parents throw too much praise their children's way, kids become accustomed to it and stop striving for it.

Giving constant praise can also create a situation where kids become dependent on the praise. They feel as if their parents' love hinges on them performing tasks and being recognized for them. In their older years, they might transfer this behavior onto others, constantly seeking out praise and acceptance from other people.

Kids who receive excessive, generic praise can develop feelings of stress and pressure, becoming anxious when they don't receive the praise they anticipate. When this occurs, they avoid trying new things or taking risks. They grow fearful of failing and missing out on the positive praise they have been conditioned to rely upon.

Choose Words Wisely

The words that you use to praise are as important as making sure that you give the praise. The phrases that you choose to compliment your kids should reflect their level of development. Don't make your praise too intricate for very young children, as it may get lost in translation. On the flip side, older kids can digest more complex verbal praise and get more out of it if it's developmentally appropriate. Make sure your positive praise matches your child's cognitive and developmental levels.

  • Praising a baby: Clap, smile, and coo to show that you are pleased with what they are doing.
  • Praising a toddler or young child: You shared your cookie with mommy, and that makes me very happy.
  • Praising an older child: Division is a challenging concept to master, but you have worked really hard and stuck with the learning. Look how much better you can do these problems now!
  • Praising a teenager: That wasn't an easy decision to make. I'm proud of how you thought about all of the possibilities, asked pertinent questions, and arrived at a solution on your own. You are growing into a responsible, kind, and capable young woman/man, and we are so proud of your choices.

Be Specific and Be Clear

Busy parents who find themselves stretched in a million different directions all the time will sometimes pop praise in quickly where they can. When it isn't intentionally clear and specific, kids don't know what they did that was so great; hence, they have more difficulty repeating the action they are being praised for. Instead of saying "good job" or "well done," try using phrases that tell children precisely what they did that was so great.

  • You put your clothes away so nicely.
  • Thank you for getting your clothes into the laundry hamper.
  • You've been so kind and patient with your brother. Thank you so much.
  • Those math problems were really challenging, but you tried so hard and didn't give up.
Happy Young Mom Giving High Five to Smiling Little Son

Connect Children's Good Deeds to the World Around Them

Telling your children that you are proud of them or that they are doing a good job is a great start to making positive praise a part of your parenting routine. Once you get some basics down, you'll want to move forth in helping children understand the connection between themselves and their deeds with the rest of the world. How does what they are doing impact those around them in a positive manner? Children don't often make this connection naturally, so tie it into positive praise for them. Examples of this are phrases like:

  • Thank you for helping pick up your toys. It saves mommy a lot of time at night, so I can spend more time cuddling you.
  • I really liked how you helped your sister get a snack; it makes me so proud that I can count on you to help me out.
  • Thank you for not arguing over what to watch on the television. Less fighting sure makes this house a happy one.
  • We are really grateful to you for mowing the lawn. It's hard to get everything done with just the two of us, so your contribution means a lot.

A Little Praise Goes a Long Way

Even if you are struggling to work positive praise into your parenting practice, know that a little can go a long way. Do your best to keep praise at the forefront of your mind throughout your day, making it as much a priority as drinking water or making family meals. After some time, the proof will be in the pudding, and children will start to display more ideal behaviors because of the positive praise they are receiving.

9 Tips for Praising Children in the Modern World