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The Science of Praise

Most parents figure out pretty quickly how to discipline a child whether it's a timeout or a good talking to, knowing what to do when children do something wrong is pretty basic.

But what about when your child does something right? Is simply saying "atta boy" or "good girl" sending the right message to encourage a repeat performance? That's the topic of an article in this month's issue of American Baby magazine. Features editor Tricia O'Brien offers some advice to praise your child the right way.

In a study featured in the article, praising your child for their intelligence did more harm than good. "Praising kids for their smarts, they aren't able to handle failures well," O'Brien explains. "Where as you praise kids for their efforts than they are more resilient and persistent."

When praising your child, there are many things to keep in mind. First, focus on your child's process, not the outcome. "By focusing on the effort, if there is a less than ideal outcome, then you can still praise your kid and make them feel good about what they are doing," says O'Brien.

Secondly, look your child in the eye. The words that you use sometimes aren't near important as the tone you use. By using a warm and nurturing tone, and even getting down to their level, makes a big difference.

When you have a toddler, you have to pay attention to the words you chose. "[Your child] is trying to put on her socks, and it's just something she can't do, you might say, 'I love the way you are trying to be such a big girl. Let me help you put your socks on then you can help slip your boots on.'"

You should also focus on individual strengths. Like adults, children compare themselves to other children especially when an older sibling comes into play. If one child does something well, make sure to explain to your child what they do well, so they can understand that different people have different strengths.

Also, pay attention to the little things. If your child puts on his or her pajamas by themselves and begins to brush their teeth on their own, even though it's something they have to do, you shouldn't over look it. Take a moment to tell them how great it was they did it all on their own.

And finally, remember not to over do it. "Kids can pick up on hallow praise. If you keep just saying 'good job, way to go,' it starts meaning nothing to them," O'Brien warns. If you use descriptive words, you are better off.
by Jenn Eaker