One of the most valuable tools I’ve found when working with children, is positive praise. As a therapist, it’s easy to notice what’s going awry, and tempting to “correct” children when they’re not achieving a desired skill. However, kids with speech and language difficulties are often well aware of what’s not going well, and might feel discouraged or shut down by too many corrections.
We want kids to feel confident with their communication skills, and eager to share their thoughts and ideas. Positive praise helps children become more aware of what they’re doing well, and more eager to continue trying. While it’s certainly not wrong to correct children (in fact it’s valuable during appropriate times), it’s important to give children plenty of positive feedback. Here are 5 principles to consider when giving your child positive praise.
Using positive praise to encourage your child’s skills:
1. Look for the positive. Search for things your child is doing well. At times this might feel challenging. Perhaps you want your child to be a better listener, and currently they’re facing the other direction while you’re talking. Nevertheless, look for any small indicators that your child is listening (e.g. “Wow! I like the way you’re not talking. You are a good listener when you’re not talking while I’m talking.”). Then offer a suggestion to improve (e.g. “Turn your body this way so I can see your eyes. Wow, you’re such a good listener when you’re looking at me.”)
2. Tell your child what’s going well. Give them verbal praise about what they are doing well. Show your child you’re excited and proud of their behavior, by letting them know. You can teach your child to be excited about their skills, by being excited for them.
3. Give specific feedback. Instead of simply saying “good job”, tell your child why they are doing a good job. By using specific and descriptive language, you will raise your child’s awareness of what they are doing well. This will increase their likelihood and motivation to repeat the same behavior again. For example, you might say “Wow, I like the way you let me go first! It’s so fun to play with you when you let other people take a turn first.”
4. Be quick to praise. Praise your child as quickly as possible so positive behaviors are immediately reinforced. For example, if your child gives a toy to their sibling, you might immediately say “You gave the bear to John. You are so good at sharing. I like the way you shared.” It may not always be possible to provide praise in the moment (for example, if your child is at school or at a friend’s house), however, you can still recount the positives at the end of the day by using specific feedback.
5. Guide your child through positive language. When giving your child constructive feedback, try to use positive language. For example, instead of saying “not quite”, tell your child “almost!”, or instead of saying “that’s not right”, tell your child “You’re so close! You’re working so hard!”. Additionally, when encouraging your child to try something challenging, avoid asking “Will you ?” or “Can you ?”, and try telling them “It’s time to ” or “You can ”. If “no” is not an option, then avoid presenting tasks as a yes/no question.