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The Power of Praise

What would you like your child to think when he or she makes a good choice? A. Nothing at all. B. "That was the most stupid thing I've ever done." C. "That was great. I'm glad I did it. I should do that again!"

I hope you picked C. If you picked A or B, then I cannot help you any further, and you should put this column down before you accidentally hurt yourself. However, if you chose C, I've got great news for you: You've got the power to make it happen.

Your words have an incredible impact on what your child thinks. How many children finally learned to ride a bike because their parents assured them they could do it if they didn't give up? Or how many perfectly normal girls have thought they were fat because their dad jokingly called them "chubby?"

The reason your words have so much power (for good or bad) is that in a child's world, parents are a trusted source of "truth." If you say it, it must be true. This is why it's so important you choose your words wisely. Proverbs 16:24 reminds us "pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

Positive words from a parent are something kids want to hear again and again. All you need to do is consistently link these words with a specific behavior that you want your children to learn, such as listening the first time.

Here's the trick. You need to be aware of about 90 percent of the times your child does the positive behavior. The reasoning is simple: You can't increase the behavior if you don't consistently reinforce it, and you can't reinforce it if you're not aware of it. And you won't be aware of it unless you're watching carefully for it.

Once you see the behavior, immediately give your child a specific verbal reward (SVR). These are three words you should frame and place on your fireplace mantel. Why? An SVR soaks your child with warm parental attention while giving her a highly detailed description of the positive behavior that just made the whole thing happen. In short, you make Susie so glad she listened the first time that she thinks she just won the lottery. Then you let her know exactly what she did to create this wonderful experience, so she'll know exactly how to make it happen again!

Here are some examples:

"Johnny, you did a great job listening the very first time I asked you!"

"Susie, I just heard you say, 'That's OK, I can do it later,' when Mom said you couldn't go outside right now. That's a great way of being respectful when you have to wait for something."

"Hey, I was just watching you guys play your game and Brandon, I saw you let Michael go first. Michael, I heard you tell Brandon he did a good job. You're both doing a great job of playing in a friendly and respectful way."

Your goal is to pour on the SVRs at least five times each day for each of your children. If you do, you'll literally be amazed at what will happen. Susie will learn mom and dad are paying attention to her fast listening. She'll begin to think that fast listening is fun (how could she not?). If it's fun, she'll do it more often. If she does it more often, she'll soon begin to do it without thinking. When she does it without thinking, it's becoming a new habit. Just as I've seen hundreds of other parents do, you can help your child change her behavior by using the power of praise.

You have an amazingly powerful behavioral tool at your disposal, more powerful than anything you could imagine. Are you using it to its fullest potential?

Todd Cartmell is a child psychologist and popular workshop speaker. He is the author of Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry (Zondervan) and Project Dad (Revell). Visit his website at www.drtodd.net.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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