The importance of giving praise to children cannot be stressed enough. Even though they may tell you they do not care what you think, teenagers want your approval and want to know that you recognize their strengths, achievements and they want you to make them feel important. What I have heard consistently from parents of teenagers, however, is that giving praise can feel almost impossible at times due to the many challenges and frustrations parents experience while raising teenagers. How do you give praise when they are constantly testing limits, slamming doors, breaking rules or yelling at you? This is a legitimate question and struggle for many parents of teenagers. What is important is that you remember how important praise is for their development and overall self-esteem and try to do it in a genuine way whenever you can.
Your teenager may not acknowledge you are giving them praise or they may even challenge why you are doing it which is fine – what is important is that you are doing it consistently. Teens want to be recognized so if you are not recognizing the good, they will make sure you recognize the negative or the bad. Giving praise can improve your overall communication with them because by shifting from always needing to focus on the negative, you are showing them that your verbal communication can also be positive which may increase their desire to have conversations with you. Despite your teen’s oppositional behaviors, yelling, swearing, breaking of rules, failing grades or other challenging behaviors, it is critical that you also “catch them being good”. This means that despite all the challenges and frustrations, you should look for and sincerely recognize the things they are doing well (they are there so don’t let them get masked by all the problematic things they do). Research has shown that increasing the positive behaviors will automatically decrease some of the negative behaviors. If all you do is give attention to the negative then that is all you will get in return…negative behaviors. I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that anyone ignore negative behaviors, especially if they are potentially dangerous, however, I want to make sure that the positive behaviors do not go unnoticed either.
You may need to start with really basic, simple things if you are struggling to identify positive behaviors. Maybe it is that they got up on their own for school, that they put their dishes in the dishwasher, that they did their laundry, that they came home on time, that they got a good grade, that you were watching them outside shooting a basketball and they did really well, that they told you they liked the dinner you made, that they thanked you for a ride, etc. These all seem pretty basic, however, it can be powerful for a parent to say, “I appreciate it that you thanked me for the ride I gave you – it made me feel good to feel appreciated”. Think how your teen may respond if you said, “Thank you so much for taking the dog out every day after school, it makes it much easier for me when I get home”. These are basic statements that can be very meaningful to a teenager who feels unrecognized unless they are doing something wrong. This can take some effort initially, especially if you have been having significant, negative interactions with your teenager, however, if you put some thought into it and make the effort, it will start to change how they interact with you as well.
Below are some tips for giving praise to your teenager:
- Be sincere. This is sometimes the hardest one for parents because they are so frustrated. It is important that you take a little time to notice the things you like and appreciate about your child and that you really mean it when you praise them or else they will see through it and it can create resentment.
- Praise immediately when possible. Giving immediate feedback is always more powerful than giving it well after the fact. So…if you see or hear your teen doing something praiseworthy it is always best to take the time to give them this positive praise in the moment.
- Show interest and excitement for what your teen is doing. Notice what your teen likes and what motivates them and express interest in this.
- Be excited for their accomplishments. Regardless of how big or how small – let them know you notice and that you are proud of their accomplishments.
- Praise them for trying. Even if they are not 100% successful at something, let them know you admire their effort. Encourage them and give them the credit they deserve.
- Be specific about what you are praising. It is always good to tell your teen that you love them and appreciate them but it is also very helpful to praise specific things. So instead of just saying, “I am proud of you”, label what you are proud of. For example, “I am so proud of you for not giving up during the game and really cheering your teammates along”. Another few examples are, “I am proud of you for always trying on your tests in school” or “I am really happy that you always remember to take in the trash bins when you get home from school” or “I appreciate that you came with us to the family event even though I know you wanted to spend the day with friends”.
- Never add a negative to the praise. You never want to mix praise with a negative. So do NOT say, “I am really proud of you for getting home on time for your curfew but I wish you could do it more often”. All your teenager will hear in this example is the negative and that you are focusing on what they do wrong. Keep the moments of praise separate from when you are addressing negative behaviors.
- Don’t put too much emphasis on praising looks. Although it is important to let your teen know they look good, you don’t want to focus too much on this as they are so self-conscious about how they look as it is. You don’t want them to think that their appearance is the only thing you are noticing also. Make sure that you are praising their other qualities as well.
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