When praising children, another helpful approach is to be specific about the praise. Often we assume that, when we say “good job,” little Billy knows to what we are referring. Billy might not have a clue. For example, if you exclaim “Wonderful job!” to Billy after he finishes a soccer game, how is he to know what you are talking about? Is it because he tried hard? Is it because he demonstrated good sportsmanship by helping an injured player? Is it because he passed the ball a lot to his teammates? If you are praising Billy in hopes that it encourages him to do more of that action in the next game, he needs to know what you mean.
Imagine if the performance review from your boss consisted of the words “GOOD JOB!” scrawled across the page. How helpful…or rewarding…would that be? Praise should provide some specific information that allows children to know exactly what they are doing well so they can choose to do more of that behavior the next time. Generic praise, in addition to not being informative, becomes very bland and children begin to lose interest in what you are saying. Again, imagine if your boss praised you in the exact same way every time…and used that same praise with everyone else. After a while, you would probably tune her out.
Help kids know what they are doing right by being specific in your use of praise. Ensure that you have variety as well. Use hand signals, pats on the back, different wording, various vocal inflections, etc. This will allow kids the ability to use the information that you convey more effectively. Remember, it doesn’t guarantee that they do what you want, but at least they have what they need to make a more informed choice about their behavior.
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