The rules of parenting are complex. One day, you're a fool for praising your child when they do something right. The next, you are mother of the year.
Well, which is it?
According to Sue Westwood, the author of new research from De Montfort University in the U.K., "Improved behaviour and wellbeing can result simply from ensuring that a child's positive actions are rewarded with praise."
At the recent British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Brighton, Westwood presented her findings based on observations and interviews with 38 parents and their children, ages 2 to 4.
Families were recruited from children's centers and universities and asked to take part in a 4-week study. Participants were given questionnaires to complete and instructions on how to praise their child effectively. In turn, the child’s behavior was monitored and later analyzed.
The outcome? Those who succeeded in catching the good behavior and offering the prescribed praise saw an improvement in the child's well-being when compared to a control group.
"Following the five praises initiative," Westwood said, "led to improved behavior as well as reduced levels of hyperactivity across just a four week period. This simple, cost effective intervention shows the importance of effective parental praise and, when used on a regular basis, it has been shown to have a significant impact."
Huh. Well, that's great! But where are the five f—ing phrases and why hasn’t anyone shared them with us yet? Because we all know from past studies, praise is like medication: Take too much and you might end up getting sick (i.e., becoming a narcissist) or becoming unmotivated. No one sets out to raise overly/underly confident children.
So, how do we (parents) ensure this never happens?
But where are the five f—ing phrases and why hasn’t anyone shared them with us yet?
The answer: Be careful what you say, how often you say it and make sure your kid is old enough to make sense of it all.
Is that too vague? No problem. Here’s a cheat-sheet to hold us over until someone jumps off the terminology wagon and shares that five-phrases secret. So instead of saying, ""You're a good counter Libby," say "You're excited about doing counting today Libby," or instead of "You caught the ball Libby, you deserve a star," say "You tried to catch the ball three times Libby, you seem pleased that you did so well." You know, for starters!
In the meantime, remember your grains of salt and abundance of forgiveness to yourself. As parents, it's also our job to weed through opinions, polls, statistics and research to find out what works best for our families. That is a process that includes messing up and starting over again and again and again.
So good job! Gold star! You're way better than all the other moms that I know.