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Smart Talk: Six Ways to Speak to Our Kids

This excerpt is from How To Say It to Your Kids by Dr. Paul Coleman.

The second "E" in TENDER stands for Encouraging (which also includes praising and reassuring). A common mistake parents make is that they infrequently praise good behavior and are quick to criticize bad behavior. Criticizing bad behavior is not helpful if parents don't show the child a desirable alternative. Also, many parents undermine their praise by following it with a criticism ("Yes, you stopped fighting, but only after I scolded you"). Praising effort, self-control, and thoughtful gestures will reap rewards for you and your child.

How to Say It

  • "Remember how you practiced hard for the concert and performed so well? I bet you can practice just as hard this year, too." (Reminding of past efforts and successes.)
  • "I"m happy and proud of the way you behaved today. I know it wasn't easy." (Praise followed by an empathic comment.)
  • "Great job! I especially liked it when you . . ." (Being specific.)
  • "You could have gotten mad at your sister and pushed her, but you didn't. That shows self-control, and you made me very happy." (Praising desirable behavior.)
  • "I noticed you shared your pretzels with your friends. That was very thoughtful. Some children wouldn't have done that." (Praising desirable behavior.)

How Not to Say It

  • "I'm sure you'll do fine." (Have you taken time to really understand your child's concerns? If not, your reassurances will not help.)
  • "Nice job." (This is okay, but what specifically did you like? Elaborate. Don't miss an opportunity to praise your child's effort or self-control.)
  • "Everybody loses once in a while." (She knows that. It's better to simply make empathic comments before offering a pep talk.)
  • "You did okay, but you could have done better." (Be careful. Will such a comment actually discourage your child instead?)
  • "That was incredible! Amazing! Unbelievable!" (Exaggerations are fine on occasion. Kids like to know you are enthused. But such overly exuberant commentary will have more impact when said infrequently. Besides, what will you say when they accomplish something that really is amazing?)

"Yes, you did fine, but I expect you to act that way." (Faint praise is worse than no praise at all. Why miss an opportunity to help your child feel even better about his accomplishment?)

Growing children crave parental praise and encouragement. Done wisely, it will help shape desirable behaviors and improve esteem.

The best time to encourage, praise, or reassure is:

  • As soon as possible.
  • As often as possible.
  • When you see good effort, self-control, or thoughtful behavior.

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