After Separation


Specific Praise

If someone tells you you’re a good parent, what does that really mean? But if they say to you, “you’re a really good parent because you’re clearly spending time with your child” that is far more specific and more powerful way of encouraging.

In the same way if you tell your child “You’re a good boy or you’re a good girl” do they know what they’ve done right? But if you say “Thank you for waiting for me at the pavement. You are so responsible.” Or “You spent a long time on that puzzle. Well done for persevering.” It is clear which behaviour we are pleased with. It’s clear to our children that we are engaged…we are watching…we are taking pleasure in them…and that they interest and delight us. Who doesnt want some of that?

Parents always want to get children to do as they say. But actually, children do as they are praised. Don’t we all? This is a joy for parents because specific instructions set the scene for specific praise – if they follow the instruction!

Being specific really enables a child to keep persevering, having another go. For example saying “Put your shoes on please” followed by “Thank you for putting your shoes on when I asked you to. You are becoming so independent!” or “Put your books on the shelf please” followed by “Thank you for putting your books on the shelf. You are so helpful.” makes it clear what behaviour you expect, enables your child to succeed and feel good about themselves when they hear your praise.

Remember, don’t expect perfection and to praise the effort your child makes.
You cannot praise your child too much, you cannot spoil them with positive, specific words.

The evidence tells us that praise has a big impact on their self confidence, their self belief, and self esteem. Boosting your child’s self belief and confidence will enable them to face challenges as they grow up. For those of you who have watched our attachment video, it hugely increases strong attachments.

Sometimes we can feel as if there is nothing good that we can praise about our child; there is only challenging, difficult behaviour. But there is always something that is positive, even if it’s tiny. We need to learn to spot these positives, and praise them with a praise comment, or a physical reassurance, like a hug or a high five. It may be as simple as “thank you for watching tv without fighting your brother”.

You might say that they should so this without praise…but we have to let them know at some stage that we approve of them. We all need approval and if things have been tough at home everyone might be short of it.

 If children haven’t been praised much, they can be a bit prickly about it when you start to praise them. They may even think you are being sarcastic, and not appear to respond well.

But even if a child is a bit prickly, you need to be doing it more and more.

So it’s really about you noticing the positive behaviour and looking for opportunities to praise them. Even if you don’t live with your child there are lot of ways you can do this remotely by text, phone, Facetime or even good old fashioned notes.

Remember to be just doesn’t impact otherwise.

We can feel self conscious praising our children, and it can sound as if we are being sarcastic but keep going and try to find specific things that you can praise honestly and with a smile, such as ‘you did a great job putting your plate in the dishwasher!’.

Sometimes parents might start with praise but then put a negative in the sentence. For example they might say,

“Well done for coming to the table when I asked…. why can’t you do that every day?”


“Well done for tidying your bedroom. It always looks like a pigsty”.

You think you have praised them, but the major word in the child’s head is pigsty. That’s a criticism, and it can cancel out the praise.

Praise is a great way of actually encouraging the behaviour that we want to see. If you praise a child enough, often you will overhear them start praising other people. Children love to imitate adults!

If they try to do something, praise the effort even if they don’t get it right. If you notice the effort it will build their self-esteem. They may well keep going; but it’s dependent on praise.

Proximal praise is also really encouraging to children. This is when you praise them out loud to other people in front of them. For example when you drop your child at your partner’s home you can tell them how helpful your child has been, in front of them.

Proximal praise is also effective in front of other children. So if you say to one of your children “I love how you are cleaning your teeth so well” the others just might step up their teeth cleaning efforts too.

So for this week, look for opportunities, even tiny opportunities, to be specific and to praise your child as many times as you can through the day and see what impact it has on them. And look out for the very special moment when they praise you back. Is there a greater accolade on planet earth than “I love you dad. You’re the best”.?

Now that we’ve created a solid base with Special Time, Child-led play and Specific Praise, in our next module we’ll start to look at improving behaviour.

Children process information differently from adults, so we’ll look at how a child’s brain works and how you can support better behaviour with a very useful approach; Clear Instructions.