The Benefits and Dangers of Descriptive Praise!

Narelle Blog Jul-0782

I love Descriptive Praise as a parenting strategy. That is, not saying “good boy/girl” or “good job/work” when your child has done something well, but to actually describe what you like about what he or she did and why.

And if you have been using descriptive praise you know how effective it can be.


If you are also using the words “naughty” and “bad” when describing your child’s mistaken behaviour, you may find that the descriptive praise doesn’t work so well.


Because words are powerful. If you use “naughty” and “bad” your child will internalise those words, and he or she will prove just how naughty and bad he or she can be! I have consulted with some parents over the past few months who have come to me asking why their kids are spiralling into increasingly negative behaviour to the point where they are uncontrollable, even though the parents have been using descriptive praise. In each of these cases the parents have been using “naughty” and “bad” a lot.

I have said this so many times talking to parents over the past few months it bears repeating here…


And get rid of that damned “naughty” chair or corner. Call it a “chill out” or “calm down” or “quiet time” place.

When you use these very powerful  and nasty words on your child and you use them often, you are digging a pit of shame for him so deep that it may take a lifetime for him to crawl out of it. Shame during childhood can lead to mental health problems during adolescence and adulthood.

Think about it – if someone close to you calls you ugly or stupid often enough you start to believe it. In fact, if you are sharing your home with an adult who says these things to you it is domestic violence (emotional abuse).

So, when is it ever OK to use these words with the little people whom we are supposed to be guiding, educating, caring for, nurturing, growing up, loving?  Never.

The next question from parents is “what do I say instead?” Tell a child ‘what to do’ rather than ‘what not to do’.  Always keep it positive. For example, “stand still while I fix your collar” and then follow-up with descriptive praise “thank you for staying still, it was so helpful, and it gets it done quickly”. Paying attention to the positive encourages more positive behaviour from your child. And if your child has had some kind of mistaken behaviour, instead of focussing on who she is (for example, clumsy, careless), focus on what she did (for example, broke the window) and with her assistance work out what she can do next time (for example, kick the ball towards the fence).

To find out more about positive parenting I highly recommend that you do Triple P (Positive Parenting Program). It’s fabulous!

Author: Narelle Smith
Family Worker & Student Wellbeing Worker
Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services
Phone:     0409 986121 or 4721 8520
FaceBook:      ParentingInPenrith

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