Few parents would disagree that praise and encouragement has a positive impact on their child’s development. Here are a few tips on how to ensure that you are giving a consistent message, which rewards the right kind of behaviours and builds confidence, without giving your child an unrealistic perception of their abilities and potential.

Research suggests that parents who constantly praise their young child using words such as you are brilliant, excellent, really intelligent, very clever may be building a false sense of competency within a child’s perception of themselves, when compared with average for their age. This can sometimes lead to a tendency for them to opt out of trying at a later stage, when they come across a task which they find difficult and so can’t complete with ease, which conflicts with the message they have acquired from their parents that they are of very high competence. This may then lead them to just make an effort with the tasks they find easy to complete and to avoid those they find more of a challenge.

Children need to understand that intelligence, ability and competence are developed through effort and not led to believe that achieving ‘excellence’ is easy.

To achieve this aim, research suggests that parents should:
• Look to offer praise for effort, rather than intelligence for example by saying, “I like how you keep trying.”

• Keep praise specific to outcomes, rather than general, so that a child knows exactly what he/she did to earn the praise (and thus can get more) E.G. ‘’You read that better than last time. You got stuck on fewer of the words this time.’’

• Occasionally tell a child, “You’re good at maths’’ or you ‘’read that book well’’ but try not to over-enthuse.

• Other more general tips regarding positive reinforcement and confidence building are:

• Use their name to get their attention before giving praise to reinforce the message. E.G. ‘’Susan, well done for cleaning your teeth.’’

• Offer three comments of praise for every negative comment. You don’t what your child to learn that negative behaviour gets your attention more than positive behaviour.

• Keep the positive comments wholly positive, rather than adding a negative on the end. E.G. Well done for making your bed – shame you don’t do it every day’’

• Try to change undesirable behaviour through positive rather than negative phrases. E.G. Instead of saying ‘’don’t run’’ say ‘’walk’’.

• Always give a reason for your negative intervention. E.G. Instead of saying ‘’don’t run!’’ say ‘Walk, because when you run I worry that you might slip over and hurt yourself.’’

• Instead of giving out a string of negative comments to discourage repeated undesirable behaviour, try to distract attention towards doing something that is desirable instead and then give praise for what they achieve as a result.

• If a child does something incorrectly, show them how to do it correctly. Keep reinforcing your example each time they get it wrong, until they grasp it, by copying you. This is much better for building confidence than repeatedly saying ‘’no’’ and seeing them struggle to master the task, skill etc.

• Learn to count to 10 and walk away if you can feel yourself getting cross. Remember you are the adult and if your child is winding you up, take a breather for five minutes to re-think a new strategy to combat the issue calmly and rationally!