Praising With Purpose

_4130236 (1)In my book Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! I discuss the idea that there are three ways that we can lead our children. Most, if not all, of the ways we lead as parents can be categorized in one of these roles: The Supporter, The Consultant, and The Boss. I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about the role of The Supporter recently and thought I would share some of my ideas.

The Supporter is the parent that supports through “supportive” statements. The supporter is there to praise when things go well and to offer condolences and a shoulder to cry on when things go poorly. It is the easiest role for most of us since it can come so naturally.

But just because it is the easiest role when compared to The Consultant and The Boss, it does not mean that it always comes naturally. There are many ways we can end up messing it up. One of the ways of undermining praise is by providing what I call “reverse praise.” Reverse praise usually starts out fine, but then we add a kicker to the end that changes the message entirely.

Hit and Run Praise

This is one of those simple techniques that, if used well, can be very powerful. Hit and Run Praise means pretty much just that. You praise your child, using the suggestions above, and then get out of there before it gets screwed up! As parents, it can be hard to stop ourselves from giving advice, tweaking things a bit, and fine-tuning. But sometimes those extras are the very things that ruin the situation.

Example: You daughter has been struggling with a certain subject, getting C’s and D’s on quizzes. Today, she comes home with a B! She’s excited. So are you!

You say, “Great job! I’m really impressed!” So far, so good, right? But you know what comes next. You add, “Now why couldn’t you have gotten B’s on the other ones?” Or “So let’s figure out how you can get an A next time.” Or “I hope you can keep this up for the next quiz.” Or “I told you that if you studied harder you would get a better grade.”

The problem with all of these statements is that they tend to deflate the happiness of the moment and tends to put her on the defensive. Although these statements all have merit, it is much better for our kids to think these thoughts on their own. The minute we as parents say these thoughts, the chances of our kids saying them decreases to almost zero.

Let’s use an example from the working world. After a great presentation, your boss says, “Great job. Now why can’t you present that well every time?” or “Let’s look at what you can do to make it better next time.” Do you feel the wind being sucked right out of your sails? Instead, think about how it would it feel if your boss just said, “Great Job.”

Observing and Summing Up

I love how the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen deals with the issue of observation. By observing, all we are doing is describing what we see, and then, if appropriate, summing it up in a word.

  1. What do you see?
  2. Sum it up in a word.

Here is a scenario and two ways you could use observation. Your child has completed her homework, put her bag next to the door, and packed her lunch for the following day.

  1. “I see you’ve got all your homework done, your bag is packed and by the door, and your lunch is packed.”
  2.  “I see you’ve got all your homework done, your bag is packed and by the door, and your lunch is packed. That’s what I call prepared.”

The Supporter’s main tool is using praise effectively. You are trying to show the good progress your child is making and giving her a chance to evaluate herself. You are connecting with her and sharing in her progress without taking credit. You are setting your own ego, and your worries, aside and letting your child recognize and savor her accomplishments. The better we become at being the Supporter, the more likely our kids will stand on their own.

Neil McNerney is a licensed counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. For more information about Neil, go to