The Power of Positive Praise

As parents and teachers we spend a lot of our time providing feedback, suggestions, guidance and comfort to the children around us. Our language, combined with our manner of communicating messages, has a huge impact on not only how the meaning is received but also on the child’s confidence. Research demonstrates that individuals of all ages need five positive comments, affirming observations or statements of praise, for every piece of negative feedback, to build and maintain confidence and self-esteem.

A study of businesses in the US found that more than 65 per cent of staff noted they had not received any recognition for their work over the past 12 months. It would be interesting to reflect on our students and children to assess how often we provide them with specific positive praise or recognition. Interestingly, it has been found that more than 13 positive comments to every one negative has a reverse effect, and in this case more is not better. The value is in the content of the praise or recognition, the tone of voice used and the engagement with the individual child that creates a positive and lasting impact with them.

How can you improve the value of your interactions?

Focus on effort

  • Aim to identify the effort rather than outcome, and seek out the improvements, altered behaviour or modified activities that resulted in even incremental advances.

Use positive phrasing

  • Frame your comments with constructive or optimistic language to encourage discussion. If you are suggesting the child change something they are doing, start by affirming their good intention, initiative or approach. The child will then understand you have seen their effort or understood their aims and are able to support them in achieving their outcomes. Avoid negative words such as “but” or “no” replacing them with “I can tell that you are working towards…” or “I can see you have really put in a lot of effort…”

Use open questions

  • Respond with an open question rather than providing the answer the child is seeking. Build their confidence in themselves by reassuring them that “we all have to develop” and perhaps asking “where do you think you could start?” Respond with targeted questions when they are closer to the answer and provide specific positive praise for their effort, thinking and responses to any issues faced rather than just outcomes. It will take time for children to build trust and confidence, so start small and reward each attempt to solve situations.

Be aware of your tone of voice

  • It is believed that more than 38 per cent of your communication is through your vocal communication, i.e., your tone, pitch and speed of voice. Even the most positive words can be mistaken or missed if they are said too fast, in a monotone manner or in a condescending way. Avoid the use of sarcasm and take note of how you communicate with children. During times of stress, exhaustion or busyness we may rush, use an indifferent tone or lack engagement in the discussions we undertake. Ensure you care for yourself, allow time for rest and prepare for more complex conversation such as parent-teacher interviews, feedback from exams or assessments and activities.

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Kathryn TaylorKathryn Taylor is Director and Owner of Turning Point Consulting Pty Ltd. With more than 16 years of experience in human resources, talent management and career coaching, Kathryn has worked across a range of sectors and specialises in assisting education and corporate clients. Kathryn offers schools, businesses, educators, students, parents and aligned associations support in creating a platform for positive self-evaluation, to support proactive life planning and transition skills. She is an active and involved member of several advisory boards including Wellbeing Australia.