Praise is extremely important with children if you want to shape behavior (increase the good AND decrease the bad). All praise can be effective, but specific praise is typically more effective than specific praise. So what’s the difference? Specific praise includes exactly what the child is being praised for doing. So here’s an example: when a child makes their bed without being told to do so, an example of vague (or general) praise would be, “good job!” and an example of specific praise would be, “wow! You made your bed without having to be asked!” Both are praise and both are great, but with the second example, there is no doubt in the child’s mind what they did to make their caregiver so happy.
Vague praise can be confusing, as it can be difficult for kiddos to pinpoint what behavior they are being praised for. Think about a child playing in the living room. He is playing quietly, rolling the cars gently, and sharing with his brother. Mom walks by and says, “nice job!” The kid will likely LOVE the praise, but he might not know exactly what he’s being praised for. For playing with cars? For sharing? For playing quietly? It might be all of the above! In this example, the mom didn’t do a single thing wrong and should be commended for praising her child. However, being specific can make that praise more meaningful. Mom could’ve instead said, “awesome job sharing with your brother,” “thank you for playing quietly,” or “I’m so proud of you for playing nicely together.”
More examples of specific praise:
- “Awesome job asking first before getting a snack!”
- “Look at you! You finished your homework without help!”
- “Thank you for emptying the dishwasher.”
- “Wow! You put your shoes in the right spot!”
- “Thank you for cleaning up your art supplies.”
- “I’m so proud of you for helping your friend.”
Don’t get me wrong – vague or general praise is great! It is definitely better than no praise at all. But if you can get in some specific praise, more power to you!