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Today's Child

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Praising Praise

"Everything you say and do and don't say and don't do is a lesson"

...that includes praise. The goal of this article is to get you, the reader, thinking about what a child might be really hearing behind the words of praise that we give them. 

"Johnny, you did very well.  You are such a good boy."  That sounds nice, doesn't it? But what messages might you be sending that you really do not want to be saying? If Johnny didn't do a good job, does that make him a bad boy?

"Karen, that is lovely. I am so proud of you." It feels good to have someone proud of you, yes.  But -- do I need to base my sense of accomplishment on your pride? Should I only be proud of myself if YOU are proud of me? How should I feel if you don't say you are proud?  And what if you aren't around to see what I do?

"Chris, nice try, but here let me do it for you." Have we complimented the child on the effort given? Does he feel like a success? Will he want to try next time?

Every interaction we have with children is teaching them about themselves.  Praise can do wonders for a child's self-esteem as well as his* understanding of what are appropriate behaviours.  However, as seen above, do we actually send mixed messages?  Are our compliments actually undermining what we want to achieve?  

"But My Kid Doesn't Do Anything Well"


Ways to Praise

Showing an interest in a child's activities is indeed giving praise.  

It is very rewarding to have someone comment or ask questions about what you are doing, but above all remember that it is the inner-reward, the self-appraisal, that is most important. 

  • a pat on the back, hand on the shoulder
  • a smile and friendly eye contact
  • "I can see that you have really worked hard on this."
  • "I'd love to hear about what you have been doing. "
  • "This looks really interesting to me."
  • "You put a lot of thought into this."
  • "That is very creative!  How did you decide to do that?"
  • "I'd like to try that too."
  • "You did a great job."
  • "That's different than your last one.  How did you change it?"
  • "You must feel very proud."

If you feel good about what you have done, does it matter how others feel about it?

Building Self-Praise


  • wording

  • physical

  • eye contact

  • role-modelling

  • self-talk




Notice, in the above list, the line: "you must feel very proud".  These words guide the child to look inside, to assess how she* feels.  Instead of telling children how we feel about their achievement we can get them to identify how they feel themselves. 

Children are not born with an understanding of their emotions. It is our role to help them identify how they are feeling and to put a label to it.  As parents and educators we do teach them about "happy" and "sad" but why do we tend to not include "pride"?  
Our society, for whatever reasons, undermines the sense of pride.  It isn't polite to boast or brag.  If someone pays you a compliment you might respond with "it was nothing" or give excuses for the success.  But, by doing this we limit the boundaries of our self-esteem, as well as the desire to do one's best, to feel good about what one does-- no matter who is watching.

I think this is the key -- to get children to do things because THEY feel they are important, not just to please someone else.  And our actions can build this desire! Not only do we need to be cautious as to how we respond to their actions but we also need to demonstrate this skill by acknowledging our own accomplishments.  "I worked really hard on this.  I am very proud of what I accomplished."  "I like how I made this work, how this turned out." "I learned a lot from doing this.  Next time it will be even better." "Hmmm that didn't work the way I thought it would, but I learned lots! That was a good experience."  "I can't wait to try this again.  I really enjoyed doing this." 

Once again, communication plays a key role in our teaching/guiding of children.  What do we really want to be teaching them, and is what we are saying achieving this? Also, remember that communication is 80% body language -- we need to be as aware of what our eyes, facial expressions, and body language are saying as we are the words we choose.  

Praise: motivation, reward, satisfaction
Let it work for you--and for our children!



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copyright, 1999: Debbie Roswell





But My Kid Doesn't Do Anything Well

...and the cycle continues!! When we only see the negative, the negative keeps growing! Children need attention; they crave it.  And if 'doing well' isn't getting it, they will find some other method of meeting their needs--and those choices usually drive us crazy!

I have facilitated so many groups where parents have started 'catching their children doing something good' and have acknowledged the behaviour.  Miraculously, in every case that I have heard, the good behaviours have increased in number.

But what should I look for??
  • eating at the table
  • taking shoes off at the door
  • hanging a towel up
The good things seem to slip by without notice because it is a relief to not have to deal with the behaviour.  But sit back without the blinders and really watch your child.  See what he/she really does throughout the day. 

Don't take things for granted! 
See it and praise it!

and remember...

"Tomorrow is our children's future.
Today is their present and tomorrow's yesterday.
Together we can create a great future and wonderful memories."
D. Roswell-P