Ditch Your Generic Go-To Phrase
One of the biggest challenges faced in pitching praise is that our favorite go-to phrase becomes so second nature that we're rarely conscious of saying it. Start paying attention to how you respond to your child. You may be surprised at the sheer amount of praise you dish out in a day. Once you're aware, you can start curbing the habit. It's easier said than done but awareness is half the battle.
Make an Observation
If there something you would like to acknowledge, make an observation that is free of judgement. Simply comment on what you see. If your child completes a piece or artwork you could say, "I see you used a lot of green." or "Look at all the flowers you drew." You have thoughtfully acknowledged the work without negating their effort by shifting the focus to your approval. As you begin to employ this approach, you'll find you can adapt it to nearly any situation. For example, if you want to point out a positive action then you may say something like "Aunt Betty looked so happy when you gave her the card you made."
Focus on Effort
It's easy to get hyper-focused on results but for the child, it's the journey that matters. Whether things go right or wrong in your eyes, make the effort the main conversation point. "I can see that you worked very hard to recreate this map." Or "You completed the pink tower!"
Always keep in mind that our children don't need us to comment on everything they do. We live in a society that abhors silence; filling each moment with a distraction. Sometimes it's helpful to stay quiet and let our children focus on their thoughts. We can also use these opportunities to ask what was they enjoyed about the process. "What did you like best about painting this picture?" What a great way to honor the effort and get a deeper understanding of your child.
Removing praise from your interactions with your child can be difficult and takes time. It's something that is often deeply ingrained in us. However, if you are mindful of your words, you can make progress towards that goal each day. Keep in mind that it may take time for your child to switch gears as well, especially if they have come to rely on the words of others for gratification. Stick with it! You will get there and it will be worth it in the end.
And if you missed our last post on the problems of praise, you can read it here.