I just can't hear the word praise without thinking of this Fatboy Slim track and also the accompanying video. I was at university when this came out and whenever I hear it I am instantly taken back to the college bar and many, many an hour in there with some lovely friends.
So, why am I talking about praise today? You may recall me writing about the parenting course that I am currently attending and as the weeks progress I'm realising just how valuable what I am learning on is. I therefore plan to share the things that I'm finding most successful for our family. Last week we concentrated on the subject of praise – not something I had really taken into account when parenting.
Research has shown that for every piece of praise that the average child receives they also receive 10 pieces of criticism. Ten to one. Yikes. Think about it for a minute. You might say well done to your child for a picture they've drawn, or for completing a jigsaw sucessfully, but in the same time you may have also told them to stop throwing food, to eat properly, to stop touching something they shouldn't, to hurry up, to be quiet or to stop whining. All those no, stop and don't instructions really add up.
It is often said that most children's behaviour is their way of getting your attention. If you only ever react when they misbehave then that is what they are most likely to do. If you praise them when they do something good then it helps them to feel good about themselves too and encourages that behaviour. Doing so also means that you as a parent try to focus on the good things that they do rather than the bad.
It can be very British to struggle to receive praise, even as adults, but try to think back to when someone last gave you some praise. After getting over any initial suspicion it does make you feel good about yourself and buoyed up about things. That's exactly how it makes children feel too.
It's not just about saying "well done" every now and again. To give effective praise you really need to engage with your child. Pointing out specific things that you like about what they've done or how they've behaved is far more effective, as is getting down to their level and making eye contact whilst talking to them. Rather than just saying "what a nice picture" a comment like "I really like the way that you've drawn the sunshine" makes a huge difference to a child.
There are also two different types of praise that you can use: praise for doing and praise for being. Praise for doing is the more obvious of the two – praising a child for behaving particularly well or doing something without having to be asked – but praise for being doesn't require your child to have done anything to earn it. It may be they way they make you smile, how they concentrate on a task or show love for their siblings, but it's just as valuable to praise them for just being them.
As with all these parenting theories if you look around on the internet there is soon another theory debunking the first one you were reading about. According to this Telegraph article it seems that praising a child's intelligence rather than their effort can backfire and lead to children becoming complacent about their abilities. I'm tempted to believe that the reality lies somewhere between the two. I'm in no doubt that praising your child does help – and I've certainly seen that with Little Miss C so far – but at the same time I'm pretty sure that constantly telling her that she's amazing would not be worthwhile.
It is worth spending a couple of days looking at how you give praise and criticism to your children. Does one child attract more (of one or both) than the other(s)? How do they respond when you do praise them? Does criticising them actually make bad behaviour escalate? I can't tell you what's right and wrong for your children, but having an open mind and trying these things may well help where you find family life not as harmonious as you would like.
I'm currently attening a Family Nurturng Programme with my local children's centre. The course "text book" is The Parenting Puzzle: How to Get the Best Out of Family Life
and I would definitely recommend it if you're interested in any of what I'm writing about here.