Praise and Imitation


Dad and daughter on the floor coloring

Praise happens when you give positive attention to your child for something good. It is helpful in improving young children’s behavior, strengthening the parent-child relationship, and increasing communication.

Why is Praise a good tool to use?

Praise lets your child know what behaviors you like. When you praise behaviors you like, your child will do those behaviors more often. Praise can also help your child feel good about herself.

What type of Praise works best?

Specific praise works best because your child knows exactly what you like. This type of praise is called labeled praise. Unlabeled praise is a general statement that shows approval or affection. Unlabeled praise can help children feel good but does not help improve behavior. It doesn’t let your child know exactly what is liked.

Unlabeled Praise

Great Job!
Way to go!

Labeled Praise

What a great job of putting your toys away!
You did a super job making your bed!
Way to go sharing with your brother!

Praise Tips
  • Sometimes labeled praise is best when it is not expected. If your child is playing quietly in the living room while you are cooking dinner, take the time to let him know you like it. You might say, “It’s so nice when you are playing quietly all by yourself while I am trying to cook dinner!” This will send a message to your child that you are paying attention.
  • Hugs, high-fives, a pat on the head, or a pat on the back along with a labeled praise can give more power to your praise.
  • Some parents notice their child’s behavior gets worse when being praised. Click here to get some ideas from parenting experts about how to address this issue.
  • Some parents find it difficult to find things to praise about their child’s behavior. Click here to learn from parenting experts some ways to address this issue.


You imitate your child’s behavior when you copy or mimic what she is doing. This means that you play with the same or a similar toy and attempt to use the toy like your child is using it. Imitation helps provide positive attention to improve behavior, your relationship, and communication with your child.

Why is Imitation a good tool to use?

Any behavior you imitate is likely to be repeated by your child. When you imitate your child’s play, you show her you are paying attention and like what she is doing.  Imitation can help a child feel good about herself and gives you a lot of chances to give positive attention.

Imitation Tips
  • When imitating your child, match your actions to your child’s activity. Try not to do it better or faster, which could discourage your child and make her feel bad about herself.
  • Whatever you imitate will likely occur again. It is best to model or demonstrate positive or appropriate behaviors and imitate things your child is doing that you like. If you imitate behavior or words that are not appropriate, your child is more likely to say or do those things again. Inappropriate behaviors and words can be ignored if they are not dangerous for her or anyone else or destructive. If your child is doing something that is dangerous or destructive, stop those behaviors immediately.

Learn how description can be used to improve your child’s behavior »


Page last reviewed: October 2, 2017