More Than Praise — Other Ways Parents Can Be Positive With Their Children


Exploring the Differences between Praise, Mirroring,

Character Feedback, and Solution-Focused Questions

This is a homework assignment from “How to Talk so Parents will Listen and Listen so Parents will Talk.” More info on the book is at: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118012968.html

If you’ve been given this homework assignment, you’re probably already using many good parenting techniques with your child. This assignment will help you refine your parenting approach to intentionally include even more ways of being positive with your child.

Imagine that a father is busy taking care of household chores while he’s parenting his 5-year-old daughter. She’s creating some excellent 5-year-old crayon art and approaches her daddy with a finished product and a beaming smile. Dad looks up and takes a break from his chores to admire his daughter’s artwork. He returns her grin and says one of the following:

  • “This is beautiful!” (An example of praise—a form of direct power)
  • “Thanks for showing me your drawing. You look very happy with your picture.” (An example of emotional mirroring or encouragement—a form of indirect power)
  • “You love doing artwork!” (An example of character feedback—another form of indirect power)
  • “How did you manage to create this beautiful drawing?” (An example of a solution-focused question—a form of problem-solving power)

If you can increase your awareness of these different strategies, you’ll feel more capable of being intentional and positive when interacting with your children. The result usually includes fewer power struggles and more positive parent–child relationship dynamics.

Using Praise

Using praise is simple. For example, praise includes statements like: “Great work,”  “I’m proud of you,” and “Look at what a good job you’ve done cleaning the bathroom!” When you use praise, you are clearly communicating your expectations and your approval to your child.

Think about how much praise you use with your children. Are you being clear enough with them about what you want and are you letting them know when they’ve done well? As a part of this homework assignment, consider increasing how much you praise your child and then see how your child reacts.

Using Mirroring

Sometimes children don’t have a clear sense of how their behaviors look to others (which can also be true for adults). The purpose of mirroring is to help children see themselves through your eyes. After seeing (or hearing) their reflection, your child becomes more aware of his or her behavior and may choose to make changes.

For now, we recommend that you practice using mirroring only to reflect your child’s positive behaviors. For example, if your daughter has a play date and shares her toys with her friend, you could say, “I noticed you were sharing your toys.” Or if your son got home on time instead of breaking his curfew, you might say, “I noticed you were on time last night.” The hard part about using mirroring is to stay neutral, but staying neutral is important because mirroring allows your children to be the judge of their own behaviors. If you want to be the judge, you can use praise.

Using Character Feedback

Character feedback works well for helping your children see themselves as having positive character traits. For example, you might say, “You’re very honest with us,” or “You can really focus on and get your homework done quickly when you want to,” or “You’re very smart.”

Usually, as parents, instead of using character feedback to focus on our children’s positive qualities, we use it in a very negative way. Examples include: “Can’t you keep your hands to yourself?” “You’re always such a big baby,” and “You never do your homework.”

For your homework assignment, try using character feedback to comment on your children’s positive behaviors, while ignoring the negative. You can even use character feedback to encourage a new behavior—all you have to do is wait for a tiny sign of the new behavior to occur and then make a positive character feedback statement: “You’re really starting to pay attention to keeping your room clean.”

Using Solution-Focused Questions

Problem-focused questions include: “What’s wrong with you?” and “What were you thinking when you hit that other boy at school?” In contrast, solution-focused questions encourage children to focus on what they’re doing well. For example, “How did you manage to get that puzzle together?” “What were you thinking when you decided to share your toy with your friend?” and “What did you do to get yourself home on time?”

Solution-focused questions require us to look for the positive. For practice, try asking your child questions designed to get him or her to think about successes instead of failures. After all, it’s the successes that you want to see repeated. Of course, when you ask these questions, don’t expect your child to answer them well. Instead, your child will most likely say, “Huh? I don’t know.” The point is that you’re focusing on the positive and eventually these questions get your children to focus on the positive as well.

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