There are a lot of arguments about complimenting and praising children. For example:
“Kids get too much praise these days.”
“Kids don’t get enough praise.”
“Praise their effort not their gift.”
“Praise the journey not the end result.”
“Don’t judge the action” (as in saying, “That’s great!”)
“Don’t judge the person” (as in saying “You’re smart.”)
I don’t know the right answer, but here’s the formula I try to use when I’m thinking of how to praise my children.
Half the compliment should be what you see your child doing: “I see you walking up that steep slide. You’re using your big leg muscles but at the same time pulling with your arms.”
The other half can be half praising the child’s effort: “You’re trying really hard!” and half who they are: “You’re so strong.”
It’s that simple. Think of at least 4 sentences you can say to your child. Two should simply state what you see your child doing. Then one praising the effort and one praising her.
Some experts say to not judge them or their action. For example, don’t say, “You’re so smart.” “That’s beautiful.” “I love it.” I agree that it shouldn’t be the only thing they hear from us, but I think it’s ok to make it ¼ of what we say to them.
Here are some scenarios to practice
Child shows you her drawing. You can either say, “That’s beautiful. I love it!” or using the 4 step compliment say, “You drew a really tall tree. And you picked different colors for the leaves. You took a long time to make a fall scene and it turned out really gorgeous. You are a great artist!”
Child is on pumping himself on the swing. You can either say, “Good job!” or you can say, “Yes, you’re putting your legs way up into the air and then pulling them back under you while you lean forward. That’s making you go higher and higher. You’ve been trying to figure out how to pump the last 3 times we came to the park and now you finally did! You look so proud of yourself. And I’m proud of you too!”
Get out of the ‘good job’ rut
You can see I don’t follow the 4 step compliment exactly. I just made it up for a frame of reference. To use when I catch myself in the “good job” rut. With 10 children telling me and showing me things they do, it’s easy for me to say “good job” all day.
“Good job for setting the table”
“Good job on your lego house”
“Good job on winning candy land”
Be more specific
Instead of saying good job all day, I’m trying to train myself to be specific. To stop and notice out loud what they are doing or did. Here are a few more scenarios to practice.
Instead of: “Good job for reading so long.”
Try: “You read for 20 minutes.”
Instead of: “Good job for making dinner.”
Try: “You boiled the water and added the noodles all by yourself. I can tell you remembered to stir them because there aren’t any stuck on the bottom of the pot. Their texture is perfect too; not too crunchy and not too mushy. Great job, son! Thank you so much for helping! You’re a good cook.”
Instead of: “Good job for cleaning your room.”
Try: “I see you put all the stuffed animals in the blue bin and threw away all the scraps of paper. You worked really fast. You’re a good cleaner-upper!
It’s almost like describing something to a blind person
Child playing with play doh:
“I see you pounding the play doh flat and trying really hard to get it bigger and flatter. You’ve been working on it for awhile and haven’t gotten mad or given up. I’m really proud of you for persevering.”
Contrast that with your daughter is playing with play doh and she says, “Mommy look what I made!” You respond, “Good job, sweetheart.” Kinda flat.
That’s all I have for you! I need this lesson more than anyone so it was good for me to write it. Hopefully it helped you too as you are complimenting and praising your children. Keep up the good work!