The Power of Praise

11 Feb

Working closely with families to address behavioural concerns, we decided to share some stories that you might relate to.
Often it’s the simplest things that have the greatest outcomes!

At Karma Kids we talk about reinforcing positive behaviour and the value of targeted praise.
This is not a new or innovative strategy but something that as parents we need to keep on the agenda.
We believe positive reinforcement is a more powerful tool for shaping behaviour than punitive measures. We call it “catching them doing something right”.

Karma Kids recently worked with a Mum of a four year old boy “Max”.

Max was uncooperative and did not listen to instructions. Mum was getting agitated, exhausted and ultimately yelling at him. She reported “he used to respond when I yelled, now he doesn’t listen to me even when I yell. I have to ask him things a dozen times”.

After spending time with Mum gathering details of the exact issues and how long the problem had existed, we arranged a time to do a home based observation session. Max was a happy, friendly child who readily engaged. He was chatty and a physically active boy. Mum was very organised with a tidy home and established routine.

We also observed however that on many occasions, Max had cooperated with requests, but that cooperation had gone largely unnoticed. Mum was in the habit of giving Max a large number of instructions and requests.
During our feedback session, we suggested to Mum that Max might have trouble processing the numerous and frequent requests and that she needed to give him a chance to respond to a single request – some take up time.

We had a similar experience supporting a Mum with a 10 year old boy. He would return from school and Mum would say “pop your shoes off, change out of your uniform, empty your school bag, sit up at the bench, do you want a drink, have a snack”. All very caring, appropriate requests, but too many and too intensive. Brain overload!

With Max and Mum, we suggested a focus on two things: reducing the number of instructions and catching him do things right. Mum needed to commit to showering elaborate praise on Max whenever he cooperated with the simplest request. For example, Mum would say, “please put that in the bin” – he did. “Max put your cup in the sink” – he did. Prior to our involvement this cooperative behaviour was taken for granted.
The plan was for Mum to catch him doing the right thing and let him know in no uncertain terms “Thank you so much Max for putting that in the bin, I really appreciate it!” or “How wonderful that you did what I asked, thank you Max”.

Over a couple of sessions in a period of 3-4 weeks we saw a dramatic change in Max’s behaviour and an improvement in the interactions between parent and child. Of course Mum could not maintain the level of effusive praise indefinitely, but in order to shape behaviour we need to adopt a short term “swat vac” mentality. Bombarding Max with praise led to his understanding that he got more attention through positive behaviour. Previously he got more buy in (negative attention) from Mum when he was oppositional.

Let’s take the time to notice the little things our kids do only a daily basis that often go unnoticed. Praise is a powerful tool for shaping behaviour and self esteem. Who doesn’t like a bit of recognition?