descriptive praise

Ways to Encourage Confidence in the Classroom from Home

Teacher with children in kindergarten

Build a broad base of knowledge – When the teacher talks about a new topic in class, it’s helpful if your child has a fund of related knowledge. There are several ways to build this.

  • Focus on building your child’s vocabulary – A child’s vocabulary scores are often reflective of their overall cognitive scores. A rich vocabulary supports confidence in the classroom and reading comprehension.
  • Lots of outings – Everywhere you take your child, you are exposing them to new vocabulary and information. While museums, art galleries and nature walks are great, the beach, pumpkin patches and sports outings also count. Be sure you are answering questions and talking to your child about all they are seeing and doing at each.
  • Read aloud everyday – Aside from being cited as the single most important factor in building successful readers, reading aloud builds a child’s vocabulary and broadens their base of knowledge.

Play school – You might play school at home and encourage your child to be the teacher. During this game they can teach you about any topics they are learning in school.

Playdates with classmates – The more they know and are comfortable with classmates, the more likely they are to be comfortable speaking in front of them. It can be helpful to arrange playdates with a wide range of children from their classes.

Challenges in play – If your child is building a tower, you might challenge them to build it taller or think of two new ways to build the base. When children have a lot of practice at taking on challenges in play, they are more likely to do the same in the classroom. When the teacher says, “who can do this problem on the board?” they are a little more likely to raise their hand and try.

Encourage risk taking in moderation – Children have to take risks to learn to ride a bike. It can be a risk to stand up in front of the class and speak. Encouraging a healthy level of risk taking in play and in life can help them feel confident to participate in class. This might be jumping off something at the park that’s a little higher than the last time or holding just one hand not two for balance.

Ask about school – It can be helpful to shake up the questions you ask after school. If everyday you ask, “how was your day?” Kids tend to give the easy answer, “fine.” There are hundreds of other questions you could ask. Here are a few related to participation and confidence:

  • “Was there anything really hard to do today?” and, “how did you figure it out?”
  • “What did you learn about in science class today?” and, “did you already know anything about that or was it all new?”
  • “Did you have to work in groups today?” and, “how did it go?”
  • “Did you raise your hand and answer any questions today?”

School skills in real life – If your second grader is learning how to count money, carry cash and let them be your banker. Let them count the money to and from cashiers. For a seventh grader learning to calculate percentages, have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

Teach flexible thinking – Flexible thinking includes teaching kids to brainstorm ideas or solutions and think about the range of related outcomes. This might be encouraging children to come up with a plan B when their first plan doesn’t work. You might practice plan A vs. plan B for small issues often. You can also teach flexible thinking by playing games like Gobblet, Connect Four and Labrynith which require players to make new strategies often.

Encourage persistence – When a child is stuck, you might give a bit of empathy and ask them questions or give them hints to help them move forward. You might help them break the task down into smaller pieces. I’d also highlight the benefits of practice and that the more they try, the more likely they are to solve and the easier it may seem the next time.

Focus praise on effort, process and progress more than outcomes – When a child gets a good grade, it can be helpful to focus your language on how much they studied and how hard they worked. When they win a race, focus on how often they practiced and how much they’ve improved their time.

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Descriptive versus Evaluative Praise

Now let's draw big tree!

The folks who research on praise would like parents and teachers to use descriptive praise and avoid evaluative praise when commenting on children’s behaviors, academics and athletics.

What to Say and Why: Descriptive Praise

Descriptive praise describes behavior and gives it a label. For behavior, this might be, “you handed a block, that was helpful,” or, “you listened the first time, that was quick.” For academics, “you wrote five sentences, that’s a lot of work,” or, “you remembered your capital letters and periods. You are really thinking!” For athletics, “you all got the ball down the field, you were really working together!”

Directly reinforces behavior: Describing the behavior, “you handed a block,” directly reinforces it, and makes it more likely to happen again. You are saying this is the thing to do.

Gradually shapes behavior: Giving it a label, “that was helpful,” shapes behavior in the long run. The more a child hears that they are helpful and kind, the more they think of themselves as being helpful and kind, and you tend to get more of those behaviors.

Ownership to child: When you describe their behavior, children can readily take ownership. When you say, “you handed a block,” the child can think, “yes I did!”

Example: Your eight-year-old practices a piano song all week, and then plays you the song.

  • Effort: “You worked on that song all week. That was a lot of practice.”
  • Process: “You learned every note. You were working so hard.”
  • Progress: “You knew it better this week than last.”
  • Details: “I knew that song right when you started.” “The ending part sounded particularly tricky.”
  • Ask questions or open discussion: “What was your favorite part to learn?” “Was there anything particularly challenging about this song?”

What to Avoid and Why: Evaluative Praise

Evaluative praise sounds like this, “Good job,” “You are such a good boy,” “That was great,” “I like the way you…,” “I am so proud of you.” It’s cheerleader praise. It’s do the right thing, and you get a pat on the back.

Often vague, leaves out the behavior: If the child did a series of behaviors and then hears, “Good job!” they are left not knowing what got the comment. Because it’s not behavior specific, it’s less likely to reinforce the wanted behavior.

Doubt when they don’t hear: When children hear evaluative praise often, they may rely on it and doubt themselves if they don’t hear it. If a child hears, “good job,” often at home, and then goes to school and doesn’t hear it so often, they may doubt their behaviors.

Ownership to adult: “I really like that,” or “I like the way you…,” sends the message that your judgement is what’s important rather than the behavior.

Example: Your eight-year-old practices a piano song all week, and then plays you the song.

  • “What a pretty song. I liked it!”
  •  “Wow, that was so good!”

 

 

 

Coaching: Encouraging Behavior Change a Few Minutes at a Time

A mother and daughter drawing in a book on the kitchen

I teach parenting workshops on positive discipline often. At least weekly, I am reviewing the language of I messages, empathy, positive intent, choices and natural and logical consequences. This language is meant to provide parents with a framework for managing children’s behaviors in the moment. It is a flexible and effective approach for shaping behaviors and often helps to calm the parent/child exchange.

To me, for behavior change over time, positive discipline is half the answer. The other half of the answer is coaching. Coaching is best done out of the moment and when all is well. Coaching time is focused on teaching the child better ways to behave and giving better options. A key to coaching is to avoid lecture, to make it more engaging and more of an exchange.

There are so many ways to coach wanted behaviors. When I review these ideas with parents, it can seem overwhelming. The idea is to think of having one conversation or doing one small activity each day towards coaching what you want kids to do. Even if it’s every other day, after a month you’ve focused on teaching the positive behaviors fifteen times.

  • Model behaviors – If you want to teach your children to greet people, go out of your way to greet people often and warmly when your children are with you.
  • Highlight daily happenings – When your child finally waits nicely for a turn with a toy, notice it and give descriptive praise. Descriptive praise includes describing the behavior and giving it a label. It might sound like, “you waited for a turn. That was so patient!” or, “you waited patiently for a turn. You were being a good friend.”
  • Read related story books – There are children’s books on so many common behaviors or concerns. There are books about how to make friends, sharing and turn taking, how to calm down and work through anger and so much more. On Amazon Books, you can do an advanced topic search under children’s books. On this blog you can visit our children’s book list.
  • Tell related stories – It can be fun to make up your own stories. My girls are Alicen and Claire. When they were little, I told a lot of Amy and Catie stories; Amy remarkably like Alicen, and Catie remarkably like Claire. If Alicen and Claire had a big upset on the swings, that night Amy and Catie would have a similar upset at the sandbox. It’s like a lecture without being a lecture.
  • Ask children to make up good outcome stories OR give choices in your stories – If they are old enough, you could give kids a story starter and ask them to finish it in a good way. You might also build a few social choices in to the stories you tell.
  • Role play – It can be helpful to act out scenarios with your child. The idea is to encourage everyone to make good choices about things to do and say. Talk about how to make situations work better.
  • Give puppet shows – In a puppet show, your child might be the audience while you tell a story with good choices. Even better, your child can participate.
  • Draw pictures of it going well – Before a friend comes over to play, you might draw pictures together of how to share toys and how to ask mom for help with sharing toys.
  • Make comic strips – As kids get older, you might draw comic strips together and fill in the words.
  • Brainstorm lists – You can make lists of ways to greet people, ways to ask for turns, ways to express anger and ways to calm down. You can always review lists to try new techniques or put lists in order with the best idea on top.
  • Ask hypotheticals – We call asking hypotheticals the “what if” game in our house. For a child learning to take turns, “what would you do if you were in the sand box and you wanted a shovel, but the there were only two shovels, and they were already being used? What would you do?”
  • Ask multiple choice questions – You might also ask, “let’s say I am in the sand box using a shovel, and you want a turn. Would you; A) throw sand at me? B) take the shovel and run? or, C) ask me nicely?”

There are countless ways to coach behaviors. If you have a particularly challenging behavior, you might google, “ways to teach kids to…” Get creative and engage your children. Think to coach as often, if not more than you discipline.

Teaching a Child to Greet Others

Dear Dr. Rene

My child is almost two years old, and she doesn’t always greet people she knows when she sees them. Sometimes she looks the other way as if they are not there, or she shows that she doesnt want to greet them. I dont want to stress on that, but I would like to somehow enforce positive social behavior nicely. I dont know why she does that.

Also, every time I pick her up from the nursery, she comes out, doesn’t greet me, doesn’t answer me and just goes out. Its as if she wants to tell me not to think that I am doing her a favor by sending her there on the contrary.

She is also very jealous when I give my attention to other people, or when I am working on my laptop. She often shuts it, tells me to put barney on or holds my head so that I look at her. I am scared that I might be doing something wrong. For example, I was at my mothers, and she has a french bulldog who was sleeping on my lap. When it woke up, I found her coming over trying to sleep in the exact same spot that it was sleeping in.

Thank you, Mitchell

Hi Mitchell,

The best way to teach her to greet people and encourage the behavior to happen more often is to model it yourself. When she is with you, greet people warmly, smile big and model language you would want her to use. This teaches her without pressure. Also, greet her directly often. Greet her with a smile and “hello” whenever you enter the room.  When you do suggest she greet someone else, give her choices about how to do this. You might offer that she smiles, waves, says “hello,” shakes hands or high-fives. When she does greet someone nicely, provide descriptive praise. This is along the lines of, “that was nice to say ‘hi’ to them!” or, “you waved, that made Grandma happy!”

As long as she’s not very unhappy at your nursery pick-up, try to let this one go. Often parents will get warm greetings the first few days or weeks of being at school. Once children have settled in to the habit of school, the need for big greetings can subside.  This means they have created positive relationships with teachers, and, while they are happy to see parents, it’s not the big relief that came before they were comfortable with such a separation. This is normal. If she is very unhappy at pick-up, write again with those details and I will answer.

That she seems jealous when you share your attention with others means she loves you and enjoys your attention herself. When she tells you to shut the laptop or holds your head, at least validate her wants with your words. You might say, “I know you want to spend time together,” and then either do spend time or follow with, “I love you too and I have to finish my work right now.”

I hope this helps.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

 

 

Ownership in Potty Training

Dear Dr. Rene,

My almost two-and-a-half-year-old decided she wanted underwear 11 days ago. So, we are 11 days into potty training. She goes to daycare, and is now fully potty trained at
daycare (at least barring any regression that could happen.) At home, I still
have to take her to the potty every hour, or she’ll have an accident. She rarely
initiates on her own, and often tells me she doesn’t want to go on the potty. We
had her choose her brand new potty seat, and we offer her “potty treats” after
she goes. We tell her she is a big girl, and we’re proud of her. Any other tips
to help my very head strong little girl with potty training at home? Or is this
just normal for a young girl, and I just need to be patient? (FYI – my older
daughter did the three day method when she was close to three years old, so this is all
new to me.)

Sincerely, June (mom of two)

First, I would ask for what they typically do and say at daycare. If this is going smoothly there, maybe replicate what they are doing. Also, take her to the potty there yourself at drop-off and pick-up. It may be helpful for you to be associated with that success. If available, maybe purchase a similar potty seat or ring for home.

At home, I would do all the small things to encourage interest including reading potty training picture books, watching the potty videos, letting her observe while others potty and playing potty with doll babies or a dollhouse set.

Bigger things to encourage her to more fully participate include offering her choices, descriptive praise and language of ownership. Choices include, “would you like to use the upstairs or the downstairs potty?” or, “do you want to sit on the little potty or the big potty?” Here is a link to a previous post on choices: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/how-choices-work-in-positive-discipline/.

Descriptive praise is being behavior specific when you catch good behaviors. This sounds like, “you knew you had to go. You got to the potty quick!” or, “you were taking care of your body. You put all your poop in the potty!”  Here is a link to a youtube video on descriptive praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LH6Y-qPnAo&feature=relmfu and the differences between descriptive and evaluative praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn2Ddh16xIY.

The language of ownership is saying something along the line of, “do you know you are the only one in the whole world who really knows when you need to pee? I don’t really know that from out here. That’s your job.” or, “you are in charge of when you go potty. When you feel that pressure on your bottom that you need to poop, it’s your job to go potty.” The idea is to encourage them to take ownership without adding pressure. Use this langauge maybe every other day and not around the time of an accident, it shouldn’t sound like discipline.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Nurturing Independence

Dear Dr. Rene,

My, just turned three years old, son knows his alphabet, colors, shapes and dinosaurs. He is beginning to spell and can manage 48 piece puzzles by himself. He is very interested in learning and listens intently and soaks information up like a sponge when interested. My concerns are when he has to do things for himself such as turning a doorknob, getting dressed or playing independently. In these situations, he always fights it. He resists and exaggerates his attempts. Sometimes he doesn’t even try, he will just lay down and say he is “resting” until I am able to help him. I try to give him more play time alone, but he has a hard time occupying himself. How do I encourage his independence in situations he isn’t interested in?

Sincerely,

Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,

There really are two issues here. The first is learning to play independently. The second is learning to do for yourself and being able to move forward taking on greater responsibilities rather than continuing to rely on others to do so for him.

To build independent play skills there needs to be adequate downtime. Downtime is truely unstructured, go play time. This may be indoors or out, alone or with you and any siblings available. The idea, though, of downtime is you are not organizing for the child, you are not providing entertainment. The child is left time to entertain themselves. They can also be unproductive if they choose. Real downtime means they can watch the clouds or play with dripping water at a sink if that’s what occupies them. To get good at this, most children just need more practice. This means, stop entertaining them. A little boredom here is a good thing as it prompts play.

To encourage independent play, you might also give them things to do that are like or nearby what you are doing. Meaning if you are cooking, give them pots, pans and spoons with a bit of water. If you are on the computer, give them a leap-pad on the corner of the desk, so they can do their work beside you. You might also give them things you start together such as a big puzzle. Sit together for the first few pieces, and then make trips away.

Encouraging a child to take ownership and increasing responsibility for life tasks is a harder thing. I think the first thing to do is focus on teaching them to do for themselves. If they struggle with parts of getting dressed, which may sink the entire effort, sit and practice that piece. Give them ample practice when you are there to help. Once you know they are capable, move back and give them space to work through. This may mean you are out of the room to avoid doing for them. Think of each challenge as opportunity for them to master the task and to at least learn from the experience.

When they are frustrated, give hints and suggestions to get them back on track. Avoid doing for them. Be sure to give lots of empathy for the frustration and encouragment for the task. Focus your praise on their effort and process rather than the outcome. Notice the hard work and the additional attempts, comment on the time and energy required to get it right. When available, give them opportunity for decision making. Children are much more likely to buy into doing if they are in charge of the process.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Two-Year-Old Running in Parking Lot

Hi Dr. Rene,
My two-year-old runs away from me in the parking lot. I have a four-month-old so when she does this it is especially challenging since I’m holding the carrier. I have been talking to her prior to leaving about what we need to do – hold hands, stay with mommy, etc. And lately, I have been giving her a reward when she stays with me and holds hands. This works most of the time but she still runs away now and then. Do you have any insight on why she does this? It makes me reluctant to take her places!

Sincerely,

Katie

Dear Katie,

At two years old, she likely does this because it’s fun or because it gets a big reaction. I would save the conversation about what she can do until just before you are getting out of the car. After you’ve gotten the carrier with the baby, and you are just about to let her out, I would say, “in the parking lot I need you to hold my hand the whole time.” Then I would give her a choice to help her buy in, something like, “do you want to jump or walk while you hold my hand,” or, “do you want to sing or whisper while you hold my hand?” If she is not yet able to make a choice, just give her these things as a challenge, “let’s whisper the whole time we hold hands, ready?”

If this doesn’t work, be prepared to follow through with a consequence related to keeping her safe. If she is pulling away or trying to run, “if you run, you will have to be in the stroller,” or, “you will have to wear the backpack (leash).” I am not a terribly big fan of the leashes, but I get it. If your young child is a runner, and my first one was, I get the leash in parking lots or crowded places. I think they are fine while the child is learning to stay with you or be a listener.

You might also practice a key word. In our house, we playe the Freeze Game. I took Alicen to Springfield Mall, an empty place on weekday afternoons, and said, “okay, today when you run off I am going to say, ‘Freeze!’ When you hear me say, ‘Freeze!’ your job is to stop your feet as fast as you can. Got it?” For the next while, you are playing the Freeze Game and teaching that ‘freeze’ is a magic word. Every time she listens, gush a little by saying something like, “look how fast you stopped. You are a listener!” You can then use the Freeze Game in parking lots and on bigger outings.

I hope this helps!

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Labels for Good Behavior

In many of our workshops, we highlight the differences between using evaluative vs. descriptive praise. This includes the benefits of being descriptive. Being descriptive is describing a child’s behavior and giving it a label. You might say, “you handed a block, that was helpful.” or, “you waited while mommy was speaking, that was patient.”

In class last night, someone asked for a list of descriptors. I think these descriptors are any positive traits or ways you would hope to be able to describe your child. Here is a starter list, I am sure there are many other. Please comment and add more!

thoughtful, kind, nice, helpful, friendly, gracious, cooperative, honest, straightforward, compassionate, brave, courageous, humble, caring, gentle, considerate, loving, enthusiastic, patient, generous, polite, useful, punctual, creative, witty, funny, fun, entertaining, sharp, quick, hard working (a hard worker), smart, persistent, neat, practical, clear, organized, careful, attentive, focused, diligent, thorough, detailed, flexible, perceptive, a good listener, good sister, good friend, good sharer, good turn-taker, good listener, good rememberer

Depending on their age, children may not know what all these terms mean, but the more you use them in context, the more you are teaching them the words.

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