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How should we praise good behavior in our children?

Updated on May 3, 2011

Encouraging positive friendships is important at a young age

How do we praise and encourage our children's behavior?

Creating good behavior in our children is a top priority for most parents. We all want to foster acceptable behavior and discourage poor behavior, but how do we do it.

Praising children for behavior can be tricky. Our goal as parents should be to foster a high self-esteem as well as altruistic and intrinsic behaviors. So how do we accomplish this?

Constantly praising children for good behavior can have a negative effect. Children who are constantly praised are always looking for adult approval. If instead we acknowledge how their good deeds make them or their friend feel, we are creating a long lasting behavior.

Consequently, I have never been a huge fan of the "marble in the jar" or "catcha being good" techniques where students are given rewards when an adult witnesses good behavior. These extrinsic rewards can get old quickly and aren't great motivators for long term behavior modification.

By helping children become intrinsically motivated, we are fostering a life-long skill rather than a temporary feeling.


A child shares a toy with another child. If we were to directly praise the behavior, we may say, "Great sharing, Timmy!" While this makes the child feel great, it is not necessarily reinforcing the behavior. I've even noticed children looking at me for approval when they do a good deed.

Instead, we can say, "I noticed how happy you looked Sarah when Timmy shared with you. What can you say to him?" or "How does it feel to share with your friends, Timmy? I bet Sarah will share with you next time." This change in language puts all of the responsibility and recognition on Timmy.

The important thing is how he feels doing the right thing and how he makes his friends feel. Instead of being extrinsically motivated to do the right thing, motivated by a parent or teacher's praise, he is intrinsically motivated, motivated to do the right thing because it makes him and his friends happy. If we notice that the child has mastered this skill and is already feeling good about their behavior, many times all we need to do is smile or wink. This is their accomplishment, let them feel the rewards and we should stay out of it.


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