Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The importance of praising our children - A feature


Do we instinctively praise our children? All the time? The honest answer is probably not. But we really ought to, and here’s why: The importance of praise is undeniable. Self-confidence, self-esteem, independence, and a general positive outlook on life is forged through praising children. Not to mention, they thrive on it.

But do we praise them in the right manner? That may sound odd but if we don’t actually communicate the reason why we’re praising the child, can it mean anything to them? It’s so easy only to say “well done” and not explain why you are saying “well done.”

Dr. Rachel Johnson, a Clinical Psychologist, whose area of expertise includes positive parenting support, says of praise, “Praise makes it easier for our children to learn and develop. But it is important to be clear on what you are praising. Empty praise is not only meaningless, but can affect a child’s performance and confidence in the long run.

“Genuine praise is essential. If you don't mean it, don't say it - even young children are surprisingly good at picking up when you're faking.

“I see a lot of critical praise at my clinic; where parents try to teach in the same sentence e.g. 'Well done - you got dressed all by yourself - next time maybe you can make your bed too?!' This only invalidates and undermines the positive message.

“I’d encourage parents to remember that praising effort is just as important as praising success; telling a child well done for trying, is as important as celebrating success.”

Babies and children will repeat a behaviour that earns a response, be it good or bad. If you consistently praise desirable behaviour and ignore undesirable behaviour, they’re more likely to behave as you would like them to. Likewise, if you ignore your little one playing happily, and only give attention when they do something wrong, you encourage them to repeat negative behaviour.

Although reinforcing good behaviour and praising your little one vocally is key, you can also demonstrate praise using affection. For affection is praise in its most fundamental of forms. A cuddle or affectionate pat on the head automatically rewards your child, and often speaks louder than words.

A great way to help your little one understand what is right from what is wrong is to lead by example. Showing your child how to tidy away the bricks by doing it with them will result in a sense of achievement for them, as well as reinforcing the positive behaviour.

As parents, we have to learn to distract our children before their focus shifts to negative behaviour. Distraction works with children of all ages, whether it be taking a baby into another room, a toddler to the window to look at the birds, or a pre-schooler over to a new activity. The key thing to remember is that as we distract them, we ought to be saying a firm “no” - setting or reinforcing boundaries. And if they’re older, talking to them when all is calm, pointing out right from wrong.

Turning a negative situation to a positive one (wherever possible) can have tremendous effect. Indeed, being a proactive parent, anticipating problems and preventing them developing with the use of distraction, is definitely one answer to a smooth running household.

And if distraction doesn’t work? The naughty step technique can be effective. By removing the child from the situation where they misbehaved and giving a time out, (professionals advise one minute for each year of the child’s age).

Of course there are other ways for children to learn good behaviour. Creating a reward chart with your child is a great incentive. However, do be aware of the impact a reward chart may have on your child. It should allow them to see that they are a success, not a failure.

Surprise rewards work well too, but it is not necessarily a trip to the toyshop that has the most impact. It might be something as simple as letting the child help you in the kitchen.

It is worth keeping in mind, that if a child is hungry, tired or unwell, (particularly if they’re coming down with something), they may be more assertive than usual. Growth spurts can also be a trigger for challenging behaviour, as can a growing child simply trying to find their place in the wider world.

Keep in mind too, that children won’t always be in control of themselves or know why they’re suddenly prone to emotional outbursts. Indeed, on occasion they may well be equally as shocked as the parent by the furor that ensues from within. Remember when your child suddenly throws tantrum after tantrum, it could be due to physical changes. Hormone surges are said to begin around age five, and can cause an imbalance to a child’s equilibrium.

Dr Johnson says, “Positive parenting clearly comes from giving praise that is said at the time it is warranted, and, with genuine feeling. But sometimes it is simply about a more natural and genuine response; noticing what your child is doing and not praising them at all, but responding with a big smile, saying, ‘You did that all by yourself.’”

Where possible, we need to help our children develop a sense of pride, confidence and build self-esteem. If we manage this and praise our children along the way, hopefully the results will be revealed to us when our babies/toddlers/rising five-year-olds grow up, and fingers crossed, flourish into happy, confident and independent beings before our very eyes.

Ten top tips to positive parenting

1) Make sure your praise is genuine and meaningful.

2) Praise effort as well as achievement.

3) Use positivity, praise and hugs to reinforce good behaviour, and do your  best to ignore less desirable behaviour.

4) Use distraction e.g. when your child is too boisterous, lead them into a quiet activity.

5) Keep in mind that toddlers will gradually understand how you want them to behave.

6) Do not laugh at bad behaviour; try to lead by example.

7) Remember to criticise the action, rather than the child.

8) Try to pre-empt a negative situation coming and turn it on its head.

9) If you say or do something you regret, explain that you did not mean it and say you are sorry with a cuddle.

10) Consistency is key.

My thanks to Dr Rachel Johnson, a Clinical Psychologist who works with families and children of all ages with behavioural, emotional and development issues.

This updated article recently appeared here