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One of The Incredible Years’ most discussed topics is the topic of Praise and Encouragement. While being nice and noticing the positive behavior in children is something that feels good to them, it is also crucial in their growth and development. The Incredible Years tells us this,

“Often parents are unsure about how to and when to praise their children. They recognize that children should be praised for special things, but seldom feel it necessary to praise the simple, everyday things children do, such as sharing toys or brushing their teeth. These behaviors are often taken for granted. In fact, many parents think children are “supposed to know” how to behave without praise or rewards. However, expecting a child to function with praise or encouragement is unrealistic.”

The curriculum continues to tell us that children are more likely to repeat behaviors that get them attention. Think of this as the “Attention Principle”. The great thing about this principle is that it can work in both ways. When a child is misbehaving, a parent should not give attention to this behavior. In result, the behavior is less likely to reoccur. On the flip side, when the child is demonstrating behavior that a parent wishes to see more of, that child should be praised and rewarded. This praise encourages the child to continue behaving this way.

Parents are the child’s first and primary teacher. Though teaching is done in many ways every day, praise is an effective way to motivate a child to reach their goals and your goals. Recognition is important to children because they base many of their decision on feelings and emotions. So, if they don’t feel well, they probably won’t do well. Children of all ages are constantly discovering a desire for autonomy and how to self-regulate. In the meantime, parents must be available to support and encourage these children to reach their goals and keep trying.

Furthermore, a parent must learn to cater their praise the child’s goal. If a child is struggling with temper tantrums, perhaps the parent should complement the child when they notice they are calm. This demands a call to action from the parents- to catch children being good. If that same child is winding down for dinner and sitting politely at the table, perhaps the parent should cater a praise like this, “Thank you so much for being calm at the dinner table. I like spending time with you this way” rather than, “It’s about time you stopped throwing your tantrum!” Below are some more tips on how to cater praise to a specific behavior.

• “You do a good job of ….”
• “You have improved in…”
• “I like it when you….”
• “Wow what a wonderful job you’ve done of….”
• “Look how well you did in ….”
• “That’s very nice (or good) for…”
• “I’m so happy you…”

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