‘A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.’

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

For some time now, parents have been aware of the importance of praising children. We do it often but do you know just why it is so important or how you can do it in a way to maximise its effectiveness and impact?

A child is not born with their self image. It is something that develops based on what is being reflected back to them on a day to day basis. As parents, we are the mirrors they look into every day so what are we reflecting back at them?
Their self esteem and confidence develops around five key areas. Connection, Competence, Control, Virtue and Significance.

  • Praise is a way of giving them feedback around their competence. They need to feel that they can do some (not all) things well. That can be anything from putting on their own coat, to singing, sports or maths.
  • Praise can give them feedback on where and when they are virtuous. All children (and people!) want to be ‘good’ so praising and reflecting back when they have done something kind, honest, loving or caring highlights those virtues.
  • Praise also will help that sense of connection with you (much easier to relate to and connect with someone who you feel ‘sees’ you and likes you than with someone who does not).


Descriptive Praise

  • This is where you describe what they have done (tone and body language contributes hugely to them hearing that description as praise).
  • This gives them a good idea of what, specifically, they have done. So rather than say ‘that is a lovely picture’ you might say ‘I love the way you put the blue and white together in the sky’. Rather than just good boy or good girl when they put their dish away you might say ‘Thank you for putting your dish away, that was very helpful’.
  • The other big advantage of giving descriptive praise is that they hear it and then get to praise themselves. ‘Thank you for helping me carry in those bags. They were very heavy’. They hear the bags were heavy and think ‘I am strong’.
  • Being able to praise themselves is hugely powerful as over time they are less dependant on others to help them feel good about themselves but can identify and acknowledge it themselves.
  • Because you are describing what exactly has happened or what they have done, they believe it.

Praise Regularly

  • Research has shown that by the age of 18 a child will have been acknowledged and affirmed 25,000 times.
  • 50% of this happens by the age of 3.
  • By the age of 18 a child will have been criticized or negatively acknowledged 225,000.
    The ratio is 8:1
  • By virtue of the fact that they are growing and there are so many lessons to pass on and disciplining to do the nature of out interaction changes and it easy to see how that might happen.
  • So, to keep the balance we have to make a conscious effort to affirm and acknowledge and give them descriptive real praise. We need to be on the look out for opportunities and when you start to look out you will be amazed at the number of opportunities there will be.

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”

William Arthur Ward

I would love to hear from you. If you have any feedback or would like to avail of one to one parent coaching, I can be contacted at 087 2232937 or marian@theparentcoach.ie
Until next time…