From the day you become a parent, you begin to have questions. “Is my child growing normally?” “Am I feeding my child correctly?” “How can I foster their learning?” The questions persist and even become more complex with time. This series will help address many common parenting questions. 

Parenting and child development writer Amy Webb, Ph.D. will be your guide as we explore these questions asked by real parents who probably face many of the same struggles as you. Fellow parents submitted these questions via social media platforms. Although there is not usually one simple answer to individual parenting questions (every family is unique), we will use the latest research and expert advice to address these concerns.

I correct my children when they don’t listen or obey, but should I profusely praise them when they do? Or is that just to be expected?”

One of our responsibilities as parents is to correct children when they behave in a way that we consider inappropriate. However, in addition to this correction, praise can be another powerful tool in our parenting toolbox.

Psychologists tell us that in our relationship with our children, we should aim for a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback. That means that every time we correct our child’s behavior, we should try to look for five positive aspects to praise. This may sound challenging, and it can be at times. This practice aims to “retrain” our eyes to look for the positive things children do. Our brain is wired to automatically notice the negative things in our environment (including those related to our children’s behavior) more readily. By focusing children’s attention on their positive behaviors, we hope to offer positive reinforcement that would encourage them to continue down this path.

In this effort to notice positive behaviors, however, we don’t want to end up overpraising our children for everything they do. Praise would become meaningless to them with this approach. Instead, we can praise our children in specific ways. Specific praise helps children learn more accurately how to behave in ways that support their own well-being and those around them. For example, let’s say your child shared a toy with their friend on the playground. Instead of simply saying, “good job,” in praise of their sharing, you could say something like, “I love how you shared that toy with your friend.” This type of praise offers your child-specific information about what they did.

By focusing much of our attention on our children’s positive behaviors, ultimately, we can help foster a stronger connection with them. When children feel connected to us and valued, they are more likely to behave in positive ways. 

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