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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.

Questions & Answers

    Any tips on encouraging good behaviors in children?

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      • B. Leekley profile image

        Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        A well-argued hub. Up, Useful, Interesting, 10-10-10, and shared with followers and on social networking sites.

        In general and on the whole I think your main point is right on. I'm for moderation, so I'd say don't get so immoderate about not giving a praise reward when a child does something kind and generous that you get self-conscious about it and stop yourself from saying a spontaneous, from the heart compliment about it.

        Another aspect of encouraging commendable behaviors is setting a good example. The men and women for whom I have had the most respect and admiration in my life have been competently helpful as needed in a situation without any gripes, fanfare, or bows -- they just do it with good will like it's no big deal.

        The Boy Scouts make a beginning at developing such persons with their "good deed for the day", which as I recall is supposed to be done anonymously or at least with no request or expectation of a reward.

      • profile image

        pragyan 6 years ago not a parent but im a child im just 12 years old.but im little bit naughty so i was not felling well my heart was telling only one word good i search in to be a good child ?then i got it and i read this and now i will be a gud child and i will make my parents and dad i love u.

      • profile image

        Mary  6 years ago

        Positive is positive and because this no praising your child is becoming popular doesn't mean we all have to follow. We keep it simple with our children. Good job sharing is exactly what we say when they share and take it one more step when we are driving home. The problem with kids today is the lack of a parent at home. With both parents working who is taking the time to teach kids to be nice to each other.

      • profile image

        Adnan 8 years ago

        Thnks mn!, very nice;;$) i waz actually doing an essay on this so it relly helped me one of ma topic sentence-}thnks

      • PLM profile image

        PLM 9 years ago

        Very interesting hub. Praise definitely can be a double edged sword. The half dozen kids I have are usually trying to kill one another and the volume level in my house can over-extend the boundaries of my neighbors comfort level.

        The intrinsic motivation has probably been developed by pure accident as my fathering skills were never something I learned how to do. I've been "winging" it for over a decade now heh heh. I just give my little ones the thumbs up when they do something right. When they seek recognition I probably go against the proper thing to do and just enforce it with my stern command of "good for you! What you want a friggin gold star??!! You SHOULD be..."(using manners, shareing, being polite, etc) I noticed that they no longer seek praise from dear ol dad anymore but have now developed this pattern of telling mommy on me.

        Obviously I've become a very well respected role model in my household of what exactly you DON"T do. >=)

      • raguett profile image

        raguett 9 years ago

        Great advice thanks so much as a busy mother of two I need all the advice nd tricks of the trade I can get...I'l be passin this on...Ihae some hubs that you migtnd interesting, recipes for kids, health and more...check it ot if you want, keep up the great hubs..

      • In The Doghouse profile image

        In The Doghouse 9 years ago from California


        Thank your for your great observations and ideas concerning behavior in children. I too am in the educational field however, I am around teens to early adult age individuals. The foundation of good training as a child is so important when considering what kind of adults they may become. I definitely think that "treat training" is as harmful to children as it is to pets. Feeling good about themselves and their decisions is really the reward in itself. Thank you for the HUB.

      • Rapidwriter profile image

        Rapidwriter 9 years ago from UK

        ''acknowledge how their good deeds make them or their friend feel, we are creating a long lasting behavior.''

        This is such invaluable advice. I'm definitely going to put it to use. I've wondered recently about the reward-of-praise technique being a bit over-used and excessive. I have noted that my 6 year old grand-daughter Jasmine is clearly aware of the feelings of others for eg. if someone's rude to them, if they're feeling left out etc. - it would be excellent to reinforce that awareness when she's in the process of trying to redress the balance. Wonderful technique. Thanks.

      • Hoodala profile image

        Hoodala 9 years ago from Mesa

        Nice hub, praise can go a long way.

      • sminut13 profile image

        sminut13 10 years ago from singapore

        your example is esp good. i can sure use that tip for my child. thanks lots

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Thank you, Sapphire. I appreciate your kind words and you have some lucky Godchildren! xo

      • Earth Angel profile image

        Earth Angel 10 years ago

        Hey Sweet Robin!! GREAT Hub!! YOU are just the BEST!! So glad to see your newest Hub!! (Been keeping up with things through C!! Wow!! What a wonderful year!!) Even though I don't have kids of my own I do have seven Godchildren, and numerous little ones that live around me!! Your much more evolved way of interacting with them is music to my ears!! And theirs!! Blessings to you Sweet Pea!! Earth Angel Sapphire Grace!!

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        I agree, Stacie. Kids who are looking for rewards for good behavior may not act in the same positive way when the reward is gone. It is actually harder to do as a parent than as a teacher because your parenting job is so FULL time and there is less structure around the day. I know I have offered a tic-tac here and there to get my kids moving. It's definitely something that I'm aware of though and try hard not to do. Thanks for the comment!

      • Stacie Naczelnik profile image

        Stacie Naczelnik 10 years ago from Seattle

        This is a good approach. I'm not a parent yet, but I used to work with children full time. I found that a lot of the children often did something "good", only to receive a treat for doing it. The other teachers had these awards for good and helpful behaviour, but these actions were only motivated by the promise of a treat.