With the beginning of a new year, we may create personal resolutions in pursuit of improvement. Many resolutions focus inward on improving health, being more active or getting out of debt. Others focus outward, seeking to improve our interactions with others. At CF Learning Families, we encourage you to take this time to consider how you may improve your relationships with the youth in your life.
In part two of our 5-part series we examine a few ways to use praise and recognition as relationship building tools.
We all need praise and recognition; we need to know we are important in our relationships and our large and small efforts are noticed. Through praise we receive pleasure and a boost to our self-esteem, we learn what is important to others and how our actions may affect them. When given some consideration, praise may also be an avenue to teach, mentor, and strengthen relationships with the children in your life!
Here’s a few suggestions for when it’s time to give applause and compliments:
- Know what you are praising and be specific. For example, instead of saying “What a pretty picture you colored!” Try, “I really like the colors you chose and that you are working hard to stay inside the lines.” In this manner you are sharing with them the specifics of what makes the picture pretty. This also gives them something to work towards when they do the activity again.
- Offer praise and recognition individually. Feedback, critical or positive can be anxiety provoking. It’s important to take the time to have a one on one conversation about successes. This gives you and the child the opportunity to discuss the experience privately and it allows them to decide how they feel about it. Then the child receiving the praise can choose whether or not to share with others. Although some people do prefer to be praised publicly it’s important to check before doing so.
- Recognize degrees of success, effort and character traits shown more than actual results. Sometimes despite giving it their all, children won’t quite complete a project, task or wholly succeed at their efforts. These are times when they need extra support and encouragement. Help them recognize what is going well and what has been accomplished. For example, “This is a big project and is taking a lot of your time. I’m impressed you have finished the first two tasks by staying focused.” In this way you are being specific and noticing how they are working. This also creates an opportunity to offer assistance or give gentle feedback if necessary. It’s important to recognize effort made even if the results are not as one would hope. Having courage, sticking to something, trying again and again – all these are admirable traits and should be recognized as much or more than a gold star. Learning how to lose is just as important as experiencing a win.
For some children, their self-worth has not been built up enough to receive praise. For a shame driven kid, it can be painful to hear words so contrary to their own past experiences and beliefs. In such cases, it may be necessary to start slowly with small gestures of recognition such as a thumbs up sign or a pat on the back. Notes of encouragement can also be less threatening than verbal exchanges.
Praise and recognition can guide not only the child’s development of social, emotional and cognitive skills, but can also be an excellent avenue to connect with the child. Encouraging, genuine words and specific feedback are great ways to communicate that a child is important to you and that you notice and care about what they are doing. When used thoughtfully and intentionally it can be a dynamic way to build and improve your relationship with children.