Defining behavioral science: Descriptive Praise

Have you heard of descriptive praise? By the name alone, you can probably guess that it involving praising your child in a descriptive way, but how is descriptive praise different than any other type of praise? Let me give you an example.

Your kid says, “Mom! Watch me!” and then jumps from the diving board into the pool. You’re half-watching (hey, that’s better than nothing, right?), and when your child bobs to the surface of the water, you shout enthusiastically, “Great job!”

‘Great job!’ is an example of ‘evaluative praise’, and that’s not what we’re going for. Why not? Because it’s only generalized feedback, and especially when it’s emphasized with much exclamation and enthusiasm, it doesn’t ring genuine to your child. They quickly deduce that you A) weren’t really watching and/or B) are just saying this because you love them or you might praise anyone similiarly.

Let’s look at the same pool situation with a second scenario. Your child jumps, pops up, and you wave him or her over to the side of the pool. “That was really brave,” you say, in more of an observational tone than in full-on cheerleading mode. “And I noticed you remembered to keep your arms out straight, just like you were taught in swim lessons.”

This example shows descriptive praise. Yes, it does require you to pay a little more attention, but this pays off, because your child internalizes that you are praising them for something specific they did, and not offering up general praise that could be issued across the masses. This type of praise increases a child’s confidence, self-esteem, and self-reliance, and can be a powerful motivator.

Descriptive praise is more about noticing the effort rather than noticing the result. “You are working hard to be patient while your sister opens her presents,” for example, or “I can tell you’ve been working on your handwriting because I can read your cursive.”

The best news: you can use descriptive praise for just about anything and everything, at every developmental stage. Use it with table manners, bedtime routines, chores, school work, sibling cooperation, and more. You can convey family values through descriptive praise and set a tone for the parent-child relationship. It’s an amazing tool!

How to issue descriptive praise vs evaluative praise:

descriptive praise vs evaluative praise

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