December 4, 2023


“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” Charles M Schwab
“Praise is like sunlight to the human spirit; we cannot flower and grow without it.”  Jesse Lair

How often do you, as an adult, feel good after receiving a small amount of praise, such as good job? How often do you use encouragement or praise with your child? My experience is many parents say they do this with high frequency but, in fact, do not.

This week you’ll learn about social reinforcement or more simply praise. Punishment will be reviewed next week.

In Parenting Sessions, the encouragement was paramount. It was a fun session and consistently influenced at least one family in a dramatic way by the next week.  At the end of class, I routinely predicted that by the next week someone would have dramatic change; it usually happened.

Social Learning Theory notes that behavior is influenced by the consequences of that behavior.  If something pleasant results from our behavior we are more likely to do it again. The positive behavior was reinforced. Thus reinforcers increase how often something happens.

For kids — there are all the encouragers we know, such as special food, staying up late, money, watching a particular TV show or time on the computer. The specifics differ for each child. Still in general, we know that parental attention is ultimately what’s most important for kids 2-12.

It is as if kids wake up with “I need to get my attention quota today;” if they do not get the attention for good behavior they will proceed to act out making sure that they get their quota. In fact, for some kids, the attempt to punish with attention (often in the form of long explanations, lectures) actually encourages inappropriate behavior; kids, after all, primarily want the attention.

Praise — how and when to use it! Praise is encouraging, supportive; these encouragers are a vital part of parenting.  Examples in using praise for kids:  going to bed on time, nice table manners, obeying, hanging  up clothes, brushing teeth, saying please, starting homework, continuing homework, picking up objects on the floor, talking or even disagreeing in a pleasant tone of voice, sharing, playing quietly, playing cooperatively — anything that is done in an agreeable manner.

Encouragers actively identify what to do and encouragement for doing it. It is in contrast to punishment which only addresses what to stop doing.

Praise has distinct advantages.

  1. Cost is free — no stars, nothing to buy
  2. Attention is handy — a parent always has attention with them.
  3. Positive Interaction — models desired behavior. Parents would come the next week and emotionally tell of now believing their children loved them. Or talk of their children praising them, Barbie or the dog.
  4. Self Confidence Improves — praise works wonders. Isn’t that how we all grow more confident when people we love appreciate something we do?
  5. Relationships Improve — who do we most often like? Generally it is people that say nice things to us. Then we look for their abilities, creating a positive cycle of interaction.

How often do you praise? As kids constantly get trophies for participation, you might wonder if it’s overdone.  It is hard to overdo.  Overdoing praise is rarely a part of ongoing problems. Let your child know about appreciation of honest effort and, of course, success. Do not over praise in the sense of saying you are the smartest or, the best. They generally know who is the smartest or the best; give more realistic and believable praise; it is more effective.

Small Steps: Don’t expect too much too soon. Know that for a first timer doing the dishes it is a many faceted job. Start with put the dirty dishes in the sink, follow with praise. Step two add soap and warm water; again follow by praise for good effort and successful completion. Add steps as needed. Success for your child, a step at a time is your goal.

As we did role plays, parents would try praise phrases like “thanks for finally doing what I told you to;” or “it is about time.” They might use a grumpy voice or shout from the other side of the room. At one level, praise seems simple; as with any new skill, practice is helpful to create ability.

So practice and follow these guidelines:

  1. Move close — within 3 feet
  2. Look your child in the eyes
  3. Smile
  4. Use a pleasant tone of voice
  5. Praise behavior, not the child. Good job putting your toys away not good boy.
  6. Touch — bump fists, hug, pat on the back. There is strong evidence that kids like pleasant touch.
  7. Do it now — praise immediately when positive behavior takes place. Don’t wait until the child begins something else.

Using these skills will make your communication more meaningful; help with exactly what you want when your kids are cooperating. The intimacy of this pleasant contact influenced the dramatic and rapid changes that occurred for some parents.

Remember: Start with Tell – Don’t Ask , then when cooperation happens, praise!

Do you wonder, “what about when the command and praise do not work?” Concentrate on the praise this week.

Next week: discussion of punishment



  1. Linda Leslie says

    One thing i’ve found interesting about praise – even if it may take effort to find something to praise someome about, this effort seems to benefit you as much if not more than the other party. Linda