How to Transform Bad Behaviour with Praise

If a child is behaving badly and their behavioural problems are getting worse over time, then it is almost certain that the child will be on the receiving end of a lot more criticism than praise.

Unfortunately, this understandable response from parents is going to make the behavioural issues worse.  When children feel bad, they behave badly.  And being chastised, punished or criticised leads to a lot of bad feeling in children.

To turn the undisciplined child’s behaviour around it’s necessary to alter the balance of praise to criticism that they receive.  Even if what they’re doing is completely unacceptable, you need to start limiting their behaviour WITHOUT attacking their character.

And, you need to start taking every opportunity to change your child’s mood to a positive one and give their self-image a boost.  It’s a rare child that isn’t doing SOMETHING positive in the course of a day!  All that’s required is to get your focus onto these positives and start noticing and praising them.

Children need to hear around five positive comments for every one critical comment if their self-esteem – and therefore behaviour! – is not to suffer.

A lot of parents know that it’s a good idea to praise their children.  But it’s really crucial that you give them the right kind of praise.  It’s important for all children, but especially the child with behavioural problems, to limit the evaluative praise they receive and focus instead on giving plenty of descriptive praise.

Here are 12 steps that you can take to make sure that your praise has maximum impact.

  1. Give your child all of your attention.
  2. Move in close.
  3. Make eye contact.
  4. Touch your child gently.
  5. Share your child’s pleasure.
  6. Use “praising” gestures.
  7. Be specific: describe what you like / see / hear.
  8. Describe how it makes you feel.
  9. Ask questions about what they’ve done.
  10. Ask your child what s/he thinks.
  11. Be sincere.
  12. Remind your child to praise themselves.


Any improvements in the balance of praise to criticism in a home will bring about improvements in a child’s behaviour.

If your child is particularly uncooperative, it’s wise to start immediately with gentle praise and gradually build it up.  A child with a lot of behavioural problems almost certainly believes the worst of themselves and won’t be convinced by effusive praise.  Over time, as they see that YOU can see the good in them, they’ll come to believe that of themselves and their behaviour will come in line.

If you’d like to hear more about how to praise children effectively and how to avoid unhelpful evaluative praise, then please click here for my download on How to Give Praise that Works.

For five key tips on dealing with uncooperative children, as well as a discussion about why many common disciplining techniques don’t work click here for my How to Stop Power Struggles download.

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