Although the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, researchers from De Montfort University in England are optimistic about the findings. The study was conducted by asking 38 parents of 2- to 4-year-olds to complete a questionnaire about their children's behavior and well-being.
Some of the parents were then also asked to praise their children for good behavior and keep track of how many times a day they did so. They were also given information on how and when to praise. After four weeks, the study found that parents who praised their children five times a day saw an overall improvement in the child's well-being and behavior, as compared to those who weren't keeping track of praise.
"Improved behavior and well-being can result simply from ensuring that a child’s positive actions are rewarded with praise and parents are seen to be observing their good behavior," said Sue Westwood, senior lecturer at De Montfort University, in a press release.
Keep in mind that praising your child five times per day isn't necessarily the magic number. Researcher Carole Sutton, who co-founded the Five Praises campaign on which this study is based, says she chose that as a goal because it echoed the popular advice to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
"You might use fewer or more," she said, "but the important point is that the children should hear positive messages frequently and over weeks and months, not just for a day or two."
The campaign and study are designed to encourage parents and caregivers to give frequent positive and loving attention to children, which researchers wrote is important to notice and encourage because "bad behavior is more obvious than good behavior—you're much more likely to notice when your child is yelling than you are to notice when your child is quietly reading a book."
Parents aren't the only ones who should aim to praise kids more often for good behavior, either. Grandparents, other family members, teachers, babysitters and others your child interacts with regularly can encourage more positive behavior patterns as well.
So, if you've been wondering just what kind of praise to give your kids and how often you should do it, based on your own parenting style, this study may have finally found the answer. Perhaps even praising them for eating their fruits and veggies can become part of your daily pattern. And that's a win-win for everyone.