In Support of Praise

“Why should I praise my child for doing something he should be doing anyway?” Countless parents ask this question. Upon deeper exploration, we’ve found parents worry that praising children is akin to spoiling them. Others feel their children will believe they aren’t required to do the activities for which they are praised, such as chores.

Let’s reframe this for a minute. How does it feel when your spouse comes home and thanks you for making dinner? Sure, it’s something you were going to do anyway, but how does it make you feel when they take the time to say thanks? You’ll probably feel better the next time you make dinner, and the feeling of being appreciated will put a smile on your face!

In Support of Praise

Have you ever started a new project at work and wondered how you were doing? No feedback makes it hard to know where you stand. If your manager praised your work more often, wouldn’t it provide you the guidance you needed and validate that you’re on track?

On the other hand, how would you feel to have a boss who consistently criticized your work and never praised it? Pretty terrible! This is what it can feel like for children. Some parents are so focused on improving their child’s poor behavior that they don’t take time to focus on the child’s good behavior. If you want to make an intentional effort to promote good behavior try praising your child four times for every one consequence or negative statement.

The “four to one ratio” may sound daunting, but you can praise your child for all sorts of things! Praise can be about who they are as a person, for any improvement they make, any new thing they learn or do, or something positive they tried.

Why so much praise? It’s simple: praising your child helps them feel better about themselves and gives them guidance on their behavior. For example, if your child makes their bed one day, praise them! Yeah, they were supposed to do it anyway, and maybe it’s not exactly how you would make the bed, but it shows them that choosing to make their bed, instead of doing something they would consider more fun, was the correct decision.

If you’re not sure how to praise, follow these steps. First you give a praise statement, such as, “good job!” and specifically describe the positive behavior (this is especially important, as sometimes children may be unsure about what you’re praising). Then, give them a reason why that behavior was beneficial to them (not you). Lastly, give a reward. This part is optional but is very effective when attempting to change a child’s behavior.

A great praise statement might go like this, “Great job, Parker! (praise statement) You made your bed without me asking you to! (specifically described behavior) Since you went ahead and made your bed this morning, you will have more time after school to play outside (kid-friendly reason). You’ve earned one marble in your reward jar. (reward)”

Giving praise may feel awkward at first, especially if you feel uncomfortable receiving praise. To overcome this, focus on all of the things that your child already does but you don’t acknowledge. In your mind, use the steps and practice praising your children when you’re by yourself.  Soon you’ll feel comfortable praising your children in the moment. At first they may look at you strangely if they aren’t used to hearing you say these things. But don’t let that deter you! This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to hear it, it just means that it’s new!

After you’ve been praising for a while, if you still haven’t seen an improvement in your child’s behavior, ask yourself some questions. Are you only praising big things? Are you only praising outcomes and not the effort your child made? Are you praising often but using reasons that are only beneficial to you, not your child? After you’ve answered these questions you should have a pretty good idea of how to tweak your praise so that it is most effective.

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If you found this information helpful, or would like more support in correcting your child’s misbehavior, your local Family specialist at Thornwell would love to talk to you. Please reach out to Tracie Seng, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (470) 223-5980. To find out more about the Building Families Program through Thornwell, please visit their website at


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