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Catching Kids Being Good

Catching Kids Being Good

If you've ever taken a family dog through obedience training, you know the power and importance of praise in encouraging positive behavior. Praise is helpful not only for pets, but also for children. When parents consistently practice acceptance, approval and appreciation, they help their children grow into responsible, successful and confident adults.

The first step to using praise to reinforce your child's good behavior is learning to catch him or her doing good.

Every day, children do good things that parents often overlook - dressing themselves, asking permission to do something or go somewhere with friends, and playing, reading or watching television quietly. Unfortunately, it's natural, and sometimes easier, to inadvertently ignore positive behavior and react to negative behavior. That's why most adults tend to notice when kids do bad things far more often than they recognize good behavior. 

So, get in the habit of looking for your children's positive behaviors. If you notice your teenager doing homework or your two young children playing well together, take a moment to say something specific like "Thanks for getting your homework done" or "I like how you and your sister are playing together." 

Opportunities for Approval
When you ask your child to do something, make sure you recognize his or her compliance. Select a few 20-minute periods throughout the day when you intentionally focus on looking for your children to follow your instructions. When they do, praise their good behavior with enthusiasm. Consistent, specific and immediate praise for good behavior is a powerful and effective way to show your child your approval. These actions and words can all be used to praise your child:

  • Frequent hugs, smiles and pats on the back
  • "I am proud of you."
  • "You did a great job!"
  • "Way to work hard."

Other Ways to Praise
Tangible rewards are another excellent way to praise a child for good behavior. A special treat or activity, like going on a bike ride with Mom or reading a book with Dad, is a great way to reinforce positive behavior. Use verbal praise and physical touch most often, but mix in tangible rewards on occasion to show your children that you recognize and appreciate their good behavior.

Offer praise often, to the tune of four praise statements or actions for positive behavior for every one negative behavior that you correct. As you consistently "catch" your child being good, you'll find yourself being more positive around him or her. In time, you should notice your child using more positive behaviors as a result.

Effective Praise
Effective Praise is more powerful than general praise, which is usually a simple comment such as "Fantastic" or "Great".

Effective Praise involves three steps:

  1. Showing your approval
  2. Describing the positive
  3. Giving a reason

Step 1 involves using words and actions to express your satisfaction. For example, saying "Amazing! while giving your child a thumbs-up or a hug adds excitement to the moment. You are showing how pleased you are with what your child is doing. In turn, your child becomes more satisfied with himself or herself.

Step 2 involves making sure your child understands exactly what he or she did to deserve your praise. Praise what you saw or heard. This will motivate your child to repeat the behavior. For example, you could say, "Sarah, thanks for cleaning the dishes and helping me put the leftovers away." Comments that are brief and to the point help with understanding.

Step 3 involves linking the relationship between the child's behavior and the consequences or outcomes. Here are a couple of examples:

  • "If you do your homework right after school, you'll have more time to play outside."
  • "When you're home on time, I will trust you more and probably will let you go out more often."

When you do all three steps of Effective Praise, it should sound something like this:

Showing your approval: "Thanks for calling me."

Describing the positive: "I'm really glad that you told me where you're at and why you'll be a little late."

Giving a reason: "Calling me shows a lot of sensitivity and shows that I can trust you."

You may want to add a fourth step for exceptional behavior - a reward. Rewards can be large or small, that's up to you. Rewards don't have to cost money. Just giving your child a special privilege can be reward enough.