Effective Parenting: The Power of Positive Praise

Effective Parenting: The Power of Positive Praise
By: Kacee Tannenbaum, MSW, LCSW
President/Clinical Director of Provide 4 Inc.


There are many philosophies on how to raise children, especially when it comes to effective praising.  Many parents who come into my office understand the concept of praise.  However, they lack the knowledge of effective positive praise.  According to Henderlong and Hooper (2002), psychologist who have been studying this behavior for over 30 years, offer six powerful guidelines for effective positive praise.  The following are the guidelines and examples of each to demonstrate the do’s and do not’s of proper implementation.

  1. Do be sincere and specific with your praise.  For example,: “Christina, I really appreciate you putting away your toys so neatly.” or “Tommy, I really enjoyed watching you share your toys with your little sister.”   Instead of simply saying “good job.”
  2. Do praise kids only for the traits they have the power to change. If your child scores an A on a test,don’t congratulate him or her by saying “great job!” Instead you might respond with, “You really studied hard for that test.”  If your child comes home with a C, you might say, “I know you worked really hard and now you understand what you need to do next time” instead of “Getting a C is okay.”
  3. Do use descriptive praise that conveys realistic, attainable standards. Constructive comments and encouragement will motivate your child to keep trying.  Negative comments may cause him/her to give up. Here is an example of a do not: “Sam, I really like the way you folded and put away your clothes.  I know I have been nagging about it and I’m glad you finally listened.”
  4. Do not praise kids for achievements that come to easily.   Have you ever thought that too much praise could be negative?  The answer is yes.  Research states that if a child is praised too much, then he or she will expect the praise at all times.  If a child always seeks praise, then he/ she will not have the sense of doing a job well done for his/her own sake.   This child becomes known as the “people-pleaser” and may develop low self-worth.
  5. Do not praise kids for doing what they already love to do.  If a parent continually praises a child to engage  in things he/she loves to do , then there is a possibly  that  the child will not engage in new things to accomplish.  Praise your children for trying new things and not focus on the things he/she loves so much.  However, it is okay at times to reinforce the things the child enjoys to do.
  1. Do encourage kids to focus on mastering skills -- not comparing themselves to others.   Each child develops at his or her own pace.  Help your child appreciate who he or she is. “I know that Lily has more experience in gymnastics, but I was so impressed by your floor exercise, Sarah.  You nailed that routine, and you’ve only been practicing a couple of months!”

A parent can also praise with non-verbals, such as a smile, wink, hug, or pat on the shoulder, to communicate acceptance, encouragement, and love.

Whatever your child’s age (even teens), keep the positive praise real and relevant.  This will help build your child’s self-esteem, confidence, and worth.  Be a good role model to your child by utilizing the guidelines identified above.  Now, go and catch your child doing something good to implement the power of positive praise.  Remember, a this Jess Lair quote: “Praise is the like the sunlight to the human spirit: we cannot flower and grow without it.”



Lepper, MR and Henderlong, J., 2000. Turning “play” into “work” and “work” into “play”: 25 years of research on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. In C Sansone and JM Harackiewicz (eds), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.