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Find Out How Can Praise Can Create Pain

Many parents tell us that praise often backfires, and their children’s behavior actually can get worse after receiving praise. When using Love and Logic, there are times when we want to encourage our kids and recognize them whenever they do a good job. However, this must be done carefully so that it achieves the goal of encouragement without creating more behavioral problems.

What is “Praise”?
Before we pursue this puzzle, perhaps wisdom dictates that we define what we’re really talking about when we use the term “praise.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Praise” is defined in two ways, “1: to express a favorable judgment of 2: to glorify by the attribution of perfections.” Examples from daily life include:

  • Super job!
  • You are so bright!
  • Way to go!
  • I’m so proud of you!
  • Awesome!

Two Types of Praise
Spontaneous praise comes from sincere excitement over something a child has done. There’s no ulterior motive. It happens naturally. Most of the time, I encourage people to relax and allow this type of praise to happen. If it’s clear that it makes a child uncomfortable, we can always curb it a bit. Otherwise, don’t worry and be happy.

Intentional praise is done by good-hearted people for the express purpose of shaping or influencing behavior. The goal is to “catch the child doing something good and rewarding their action with praise.” Because many children have finely tuned intentionality detectors, this type is the most likely to backfire.

An Alternative: Notice and Describe
We have found an alternative to the typical way parents deliver intentional praise that is far more effective with most children. With this approach, the parent simply notices and describes the child’s behavior without judging it one way or the other. Here are some examples:

  • I noticed that you finished your assignment even though it was really challenging.
  • You did all your chores without being reminded. How does that feel?
  • I noticed that you kept your cool when those kids were teasing you. What was that like for you?
  • I noticed that you spent a lot of time today helping your little brother.
  • You completed nine out of ten correctly. I imagine that feels good.

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Charles Fay

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