Using Praise Effectively

Mom using sign languageAs your baby develops more control over actions and behaviors, you will want to encourage cooperation in eating, sitting in the car seat or willingness to go to bed. If you pay attention to behaviors that you want to encourage, you will find yourself praising them. 

When Your Child Is Deaf or Hard Of Hearing 

Using praise has no effect if your child doesn't know it is happening. Your child needs to connect your praise to the behavior.  

Make sure your child is paying attention! Your child needs to listen to your voice, see your facial expression, or look at your signs.  

Think about the behaviors you are encouraging and the language that naturally accompanies them. For example: 

  • Move into your baby's field of vision. Point to the car seat and the baby."You are in your seat. Good job."  
  • Move into your baby's field of vision. Point to the empty cereal bowl and lick your lips. "You ate your cereal. Yummy."  
  • Learn and emphasize that language each time you see the appropriate behavior. 
  • Your smile of encouragement is nice, but when your baby understands what you are encouraging, you will see the desired behavior happen again. 

How Does Praise Influence Children's Behavior? 

Parents want their babies to grow up knowing that they are loved, no matter what. Children are not judged as good or bad based on their cooperation. 

  • What we praise, or don't praise, is a child's behavior
  • When you praise the child's action, you give your child some guidance about exactly what you liked. 
    • If you smile and say, "Thank you!" when your baby hands you a juice bottle instead of throwing it, your baby knows that you are pleased. 
    • If you say, "You gave me the bottle. Good job." with a big smile as you hold up the bottle and point to it, then your baby knows that giving is a good idea. 

Telling Your Baby What Behavior You Liked Is Called Descriptive Praise 

You describe what you see and feel. "You are walking by yourself!" 

  • You name the behavior so that your baby knows exactly what you liked. 
  • You are genuine, not gushing. 
    • A scribbled crayon picture has many colors, and you really like it.  "Many colors! I like it!" is a lot more meaningful than "You are the best artist in the world." 

Use of Descriptive Praise

Drawing  "You are drawing. Pretty Colors." 
Eating "You took a big bite!  Well done!" 
Stacking blocks "Wow!  A big tower.  Nice building!" 
Putting toys away "You are cleaning up.  What a big helper!!" 
Infant hands mommy a cup to request more "Nice asking. You want more!" (Hold up the cup).  
Toddler entertains herself with the kitchen Tupperware while dad cooks "You are having fun! Playing by yourself. Daddy likes that." (Point to the objects) 
Toddler hands daddy a small screw he finds on the carpet. "Thank you! Not a toy. Good job." (Put the screw up high.) 

A Few More Pointers about Praise: 

At first, describing feels like a lot of language to learn, for parents and for babies.  

  • Start by commenting on behaviors such as standing or drawing.  Doing so can help you to quickly learn to communicate. 
  • Keep a list words you can use for praise, or to expand the name of the behavior, such as "I like it. Pretty colors." 
  • Learn to talk about things that might actually happen in your family, or that you love to see your baby do, such as "Walking to daddy! Wow!" 
  • If you are signing, let yourself learn the language you want gradually as your baby does more and more appropriate things. 
  • Remember to match your facial expression to what you are saying or signing. If you are excited by what your child does, show an excited expression.  
  • To be sure that you are not the only one "in on" the communication, call attention to the act or items being praised, emphasize the important language, and add gestures to help make the message clear.