Letting your kids know how special they are

Can't I Say Anything Nice to Her?
This perspective on praise can be difficult to hear. Parents often feel confused when they first hear that the kinds of praise they've used might not be as useful as they thought. These feelings are often expressed in comments like, "Am I just supposed to ignore her accomplishments?" "What about my excitement about her growing and learning?" "Can't I say anything nice to her?"

It can be disturbing to think that the way you have celebrated your child's achievements may need to be reconsidered. But there is an excellent alternative to praise: acknowledgment. Acknowledgment is a way to respond to children that is descriptive and non-judgmental, yet it lets you convey your feelings. The basics of acknowledgment are:

  • Share your observations. This can include making observations about what you see children doing all along, instead of just when they're done: "You're smearing that blue paint all over the paper." Or, "You're squeezing that play dough so hard it's coming out between your fingers."
  • Use descriptive language. When you choose words that are descriptive, rather than evaluative, you let children know that you're really watching. You teach them vocabulary that relates to what they are doing and open up the conversation for their input. Children are free to respond, "Yeah, my picture is all filled up with the blue ocean." Or, "Look, the play dough is even squeezed into my fingernails!"
  • Ask questions. You can say: "Tell me about your painting." "How did it feel the first time you got up on your skates?" "I see you covering up that box with newspaper. Can you tell me about your project?" Encouraging children to talk about themselves and what they are doing is one of the most powerful kinds of acknowledgment we can give.
  • Use body language. Body language is a powerful way to show children that we care, are paying attention, and are excited about them. By watching, smiling, or opening our arms to our children, we convey our interest and enthusiasm.
  • Reflect your child's excitement. Occasionally saying things like, "You seem really excited about finishing that puzzle!" or "You look happy to be sharing that toy with Kwan," can support children's feelings of success.
  • Express your feelings. Use words that describe your feelings or express your gratitude. "Thank-you for...." "I love to see you..." "It's exciting to see you..." "I have fun watching you..." "I appreciate it when you..." These phrases allow you to express your feelings without labeling children.

Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years, by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser (Publisher: Broadway Books; $20.00; Paperback; ISBN: 0553067508). Copyright © 1997 by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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