Using Praise to Encourage Good Behaviors

How your words can change your child's behavior

Mother and daughter high-fiving

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Praise is a simple but effective discipline strategy that increases good behavior. Pointing out when your child is following the rules or telling them that you appreciate their compliance will motivate them to keep up the good work.

Positive vs. Negative Attention

Imagine standing in a room with three children. Two of the children are playing quietly with toys. One child is running around wildly, jumping on furniture and screeching. Which child would be most likely to get your attention? If you're like most parents, you might give the misbehaving child more attention.

If, however, you praised the children who were behaving, you could change the entire situation. Saying, "Wow, I love the way you are sitting there playing quietly," may motivate the misbehaving child to follow suit.

But it's easy to let good behaviors often go unnoticed. And when kids aren't getting attention, they'll often do whatever it takes to get noticed—and sometimes, that means misbehaving. When you give your child positive attention for good behavior, they'll be less likely to act out.

Benefits of Praise

Praise can encourage a variety of good behaviors. Catch your child being good and point it out. Positive reinforcement will encourage it to continue.

Here are a few specific behaviors that can be especially responsive to praise:

  • Prosocial behavior: Praise your child for sharing, taking turns, using kind words, and getting along well with others.
  • Compliance: Praise your child for following the rules and listening to your instructions. Remember to pay attention when your child is playing quietly or entertaining themself.
  • Effort: When your child is learning a new skill, praise can encourage them to keep trying. For example, if you praise your child for their willingness to try hard or their ability to be patient as they learn, you'll increase their motivation to keep trying.

Make Praise Effective

Praise and positive attention are healthy when given appropriately. Here are some ways to make your praise particularly effective in encouraging good behavior:

Offer Immediate and Frequent Feedback

Offer frequent praise if your child is playing quietly for an extended period of time or if they're working hard on a project for a whole afternoon.

Make Praise Specific

Instead of saying “Good job,” say, “Great job putting your plate in the sink right when I asked you to.” This makes it clear that you are praising their immediate compliance.

Frame Your Praise Positively

Instead of saying, “Nice job not whining,” say, “I’m proud of you for staying calm when I said that you couldn’t go outside.” Point out the behaviors you want to see more of, not the behaviors you hope to diminish. Never mix praise with criticism, or it will lose effectiveness.

Praise Effort, Not the Outcome

Praise can build healthy self-esteem when you use it to point out your child's effort. Rather than praise your child for getting a 100, praise their willingness to study for the test.

Offer Genuine Praise

Rather than say, "You're the smartest kid ever," or, "You're the best soccer player in the whole school," offer realistic praise. Say things like, "You're a good runner," or "You do a great job of getting your homework done."

Avoid Labels

Labels, even when they're positive, aren't a good idea. Referring to your child as "your little genius," or "a soccer star," may cause your child to think that's all they are known for. Focus your praise on their behavior, not their traits.

Create a Discipline Plan

You can prevent a lot of misbehavior by catching your child being good. But, when your child breaks the rules, it's important to provide negative consequences that will deter them from misbehaving in the future.

When your child is struggling with a specific behavioral issue, create a clear plan for how you can use praise to encourage good behavior. For example, if your child hits their sibling when they're angry, invest your energy into praising them for using kind words, gentle touches, and problem-solving skills.

A Word From Verywell

Generally, kids want to please and do well—and get attention. When you give them feedback for the behavior you want to see more of, you tend to get it. The key is consistency. It can take a few weeks of regular recognition for the new behavior to take hold and replace (or reduce) your child's negative attention-seeking habits.

But if given time, compassion, and consistency, praise is likely to encourage new patterns of positive behavior.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gershoff ET, Lee SJ, Durrant JE. Promising intervention strategies to reduce parents' use of physical punishment. Child Abuse Negl. 2017;71:9-23. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.01.017

  2. Pastorelli C, Lansford JE, Luengo Kanacri BP, et al. Positive parenting and children's prosocial behavior in eight countries. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2016;57(7):824-34. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12477

  3. Xing S, Gao X, Jiang Y, Archer M, Liu X. Effects of ability and effort praise on children's failure attribution, self-handicapping, and performance. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1883. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01883

  4. Danforth JS. A flow chart of behavior management strategies for families of children with co-occurring attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and conduct problem behavior. Behav Anal Pract. 2016;9(1):64-76. doi:10.1007/s40617-016-0103-6

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.