Answers from Experts
Q: My son does not seem to respond well to praise. If I praise him for doing something good, like putting his toys away, he starts throwing his toys. Why is he acting like this?
A: It is true that some children will actually misbehave after being praised. There are two reasons for this. First, your child may be looking for more attention. If you yell at or scold him for throwing his toys, you are giving him a form of attention called negative attention. Sometimes kids find negative attention like yelling or scolding better than no attention. Your child may also act up after being praised because he does not know how else to respond. He may need time to get used to it. The important thing is that you continue praising him for behaviors you would like to see more often. Ignore the challenging behaviors when you can. Never put your child in danger when ignoring. Always stop behaviors that are dangerous or destructive immediately and use a discipline method of your choice.
Q: Why is praise necessary? I don’t think I should praise my daughter for things she should do anyway like putting away her toys when she’s finished playing. Is praising her for every little thing really that important?
A: Most people would probably agree that children don’t need to be praised for everything. But your child cannot read your mind. Praise helps your child learn what behaviors you like and expect her to do again. When teaching a new behavior, praise it A LOT at first and then reduce how often you praise the behavior over time. It is helpful to think of praise as a reminder. Preschoolers and toddlers need constant reminders at first about the behaviors you expect but fewer reminders over time. You might praise a behavior once a day, then once a week, and perhaps not at all once the behavior becomes a habit. If your child “forgets” and stops putting her toys away, you can praise that behavior again to encourage her to do it. You should notice that the behavior picks back up after you praise it.
Q: I’m trying to praise my child more often. Now that I am paying more attention, I have noticed that there are LOTS of good behaviors. This makes it hard for me to know which ones I should praise. Should I praise many behaviors or just pick one behavior at a time?
A: Parents often have one of two problems: their child has A LOT of behaviors to praise or they feel like there are NO behaviors to praise. Either way, the goal is to pick out behaviors that you want to see more often and praise them. If your child is doing lots of good things, pick one behavior that you want to see even more and praise it often. If your child is not doing something you can praise, you may need to first teach him the behavior. For example, if you want your child to sit in his chair at dinner, you could put him in the chair and then praise him for sitting. Eventually, you would only praise him when he sits in the chair by himself.
Q: My child’s behavior is out of control. She does not do anything that I can praise. What should I do?
A: If your child has a lot of challenging behaviors or seems to be acting up just to get attention, it may be hard to find behaviors to praise. In times like these, it is often helpful to praise simple behaviors, such as walking beside you at the grocery store or playing quietly by themselves.
Another way to find behaviors to praise is to think about the opposite of the challenging behavior. To do this, make a list of your child’s problem behaviors and then think about the opposite of each behavior or what you would like for your child to do instead. Whenever you see your child doing the opposite behavior or when you catch your child being good, praise her. By praising the good behavior, you are letting your child know what you like them to do instead of telling them what NOT to do. For example, your child may have a problem with running in the house. You have told her several times not to run. In other words, you have told your child what not to do. Now, think in opposites. Tell your child what you want her to do. Since walking is the opposite of running, praise your child whenever you see her walking. She will eventually learn that she gets praised for walking and not for running and this positive behavior will occur more often.
When you catch your child being good and doing things you like, praise the behaviors often. When the behavior starts happening more, you can decrease how often you praise.
Q: With everything that I have going on, it is really hard to set aside special time with my son. We usually get to play together on the weekends, but the weekdays are just too busy. I feel guilty about this, but I don’t know what else to do. How can I spend more time with my child?
A: Being a parent is one of the toughest but most important jobs we have. Sometimes it may seem like parenting is all about making sure our children are fed, clean, clothed, and doing the right things. Spending one-on-one time with your child is especially difficult if you do not have support from a spouse, partner, or family or if you have more than one child. Sometimes we have to be creative to make this happen. Maybe you can’t play with your child for 30 minutes each day, but what about 5 or 10 minutes? Doing things like reading together creates opportunities for you and your child to spend time enjoying each other while also strengthening their vocabulary, knowledge, and understanding of their world. If you have multiple children, you can do a “family reading time” where the children practice taking turns.
Q: Children’s problems are not that big of a deal. They just need to learn to let things go and they will be happier. Why is active listening important for the little problems toddlers and preschoolers have?
A: It is sometimes tempting to brush off our children’s problems. This is especially true if we have had a bad day, are busy, or the same problems keep coming up. But children need to know that we are going to listen to them. Active listening shows our child we care about her feelings, understand her needs, and accept how she feels. If we constantly dismiss our child and her problems, she is not going to come to us when she is older and needs to make important choices about things like alcohol, drugs, and sexual behaviors. Active listening in childhood helps build open and positive communication throughout our children’s lives and sets the stage for the important conversations that will happen later in life.
Q: I find it hard to actively listen to my child because he is really sensitive. I do not think he should cry or respond in the ways that he does. How can I be a good listener and know what to say to him?
A: You don’t always have to agree with your child’s feelings. When you are actively listening, your role is to reflect or repeat back to your child how you think he is feeling. This lets your child know you care and are interested in hearing about his feelings. If you do not agree with what he is feeling, you can say things like “I see”, “I hear you”, or “Uh-huh.” When we tell our child to stop feeling a certain way or to stop worrying, we are not helping him learn how to deal with his feelings. Sometimes children cry because that is the only way they know to show someone they are unhappy. When you help your child label his feelings, you also provide him with ways to deal with the emotions. If your child’s feelings are hurt, you can acknowledge the sadness and hurt feelings and let him know that sometimes it is helpful to tell the other person they hurt your feelings.
- Page last reviewed: October 2, 2017
- Page last updated: May 14, 2014
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