The other day my nephew posted a question on Facebook about the power of praise: “I want everyone’s opinion! When and how is the best way to praise children?” He is a college student and was doing a class project on praise. It got me thinking about the power of praise and the effect it has on our children, homes, and classrooms.
The Power of Praise Rate
When I was getting my special education teaching credential, my professors were serious about the power of praise in the classroom. Every time we were observed teaching, our evaluator would take a praise rate. In order to score in the “A” range, we had to average 6 praise statements per minute during the observation!
Yep, you read that right. A praise statement every 10 seconds.
You had no idea when they were going to take your rate, so you had to be constantly positive. For a statement to count it had to be unique and specific. You could not just rattle off a million “good jobs”. You had to say things like “Sally, nice handwriting.” or “John, thanks for raising your hand.”
It sounds ridiculous at first, but the more I praised students at this rate, the more I felt the change as a teacher and in my classroom.
Pouring on the praise was like a shower of sunshine on my students. They felt more confident, worked harder, and tried new things.
My professors said that students with a healthy self-concept needed 2 to 3 praise statements for every 1 corrective statement to maintain their positive view. For students that struggled with their self-esteem or that were frequently corrected, this rate could rise to 10 praise statements for every 1 corrective statement to change the tide of negative emotion.
That was the reasoning behind the almost ridiculously high rate of praise required in our observations. We were teaching students with special needs that often carried the burden of very frequent correction and even ridicule.
To change the tide of negativity in these little student’s lives, the teacher needed to literally drench them in praise.
And, you know what? It worked.
The Power of Praise In The Home
At about the same time that my nephew posted his question on Facebook, I was listening to Ralphie over at Simply On Purpose on Instagram. She stated that we spend 85% of our communication in our homes correcting behavior!
Ouch! If you go back to what my professors said about praise rate, positive self-concept, and combine that with Ralphie’s correction percentage, you have some very sad praise math going on!
This all hit me pretty hard as I knew the paise math in my home was not at a great ratio. Just based on my kid’s behavior, I knew our ratio was off.
After a season of stress and change, correction had become frequent, voices had become raised, and praise was just not happening.
In an effort to change the tide of negativity in my home, I reflected back on my professional training and these timely social media reminders. I spent some time brainstorming the best praise tips I had gathered over the years from other great parents, teachers, and mentors.
Praise Tip List
- When you need to correct a behavior, find someone doing the behavior and praise first.
- When things are getting tense, stop, and mentally give yourself a little praise. “You can do this; you are a great parent.” Then turn and find someone doing something praiseworthy.
- Set yourself a praise goal each day. Put rubber bands on your arm and move them to the other arm every time you praise a child. (Changing coins from one pocket to the other works well too!)
- Correct privately and praise openly.
- Be specific.
- Praise effort.
- Look for close approximations of the correct behavior and praise the progress.
- Let your kids overhear you praising them to another adult.
- Privately tell another adult what a great job a child did and then ask that adult to praise them.
- Post praise statements around your home or classroom for frequent and diverse reminders to praise regularly and uniquely.
Two Magic Questions
The power of praise is amazing and can change the entire mood of a home or classroom. But, to really supercharge the power of praise, combine it with the two most powerful questions I have found to change behavior.
First: Can you tell me more about that/it?
This question is SOOOOOOO powerful. The word “that/it” can be a feeling, a word, a behavior, an assignment or anything that is going on with a child. This question invites MORE. More talking, more listening and more chances to praise.
- (Child is frustrated with an assignment) Can you tell me more about your frustration with this assignment?
- (Children are fighting) “I will listen to both of you. Can you tell me more about why you need this toy?
- (Unidentified, big emotions) Can you tell me more about your feelings?
- (Child is ignoring a direction) I want to listen, can you tell me why you will not….?”
- (Child is giving one-word answers) Can you tell me more about that/it?
Then… listen and praise!
Second: But if not, what?
This second question is something to ask yourself, not your child. Sometimes you are just not going to get the behavior or skill you desire right now. Development might not be ready to meet the expectation. Emotions might be too big. Stress levels might be too high.
The list could go on forever. So, when things are getting tough, emotions are high, and behavior is crazy, ask yourself: “But if not, what?” But if not this behavior, what will I be okay with? What is a close approximation that may lead up to the desired result?
But if not…
- the whole assignment, maybe part of the assignment.
- eating all the dinner, maybe half of the dinner.
- reading the book, maybe you can listen to it and follow along.
- joining us at the table, you can take a break in your room.
Then, be okay with the alternative. You can work with the child when they are not in crisis to get the original, desired result. Praise the close approximation and move on.
Have you seen the power of praise in your home or classroom? Drop me a note and let me know how you have seen praise help your children. Review A One-Room Schoolhouse’s mission statement to see how praise is at the core of our beliefs.