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The Power of Praise and Rewards

Praising and rewarding our children’s behavior helps them develop strengths and interests that leave little room for drinking, smoking, sex, drugs and crime. When we emphasize what our children do right instead of focusing on what’s wrong, they learn to feel good about themselves, and they develop self-confidence.

It’s never too early to start the habit of praise. Whenever possible, for instance, let a young child select what to wear and praise the choice. Even if the clothes don’t quite match, you are reinforcing your child’s ability to make decisions. If a child’s tower of blocks collapses, play together until you turn the frustrating situation into a confidence-building success. When school starts, praise and encouragement can help improve academic performance, which is a much better way of gaining self-esteem than involvement in risky behavior.

What to Say
Instead of being vague or general (“You are certainly a smart boy”), direct your praise at specific acts:
• “You got a B on the social studies test. Good job.”• “Mrs. Royce said you helped bring her groceries in. That was very thoughtful.”

• “What you told me about the Civil War was interesting. I didn’t know that.”

• “That’s a cool outfit you’re wearing. Nobody puts clothes together the way you do.”

• “I saw you shooting baskets with Angel. No wonder he looks up to you.”


What to DO
• Set up a small reward for every time children call in to let you know where they are.

• Let children stay up a little longer if they complete their homework before dinner or some other agreed-on time.

• Allow your child to invite a friend to sleep over on a weekend if they obey the rule about never having  friends over without an adult present.

• Make home displays of schoolwork and art projects for family and friends to see.


Rewards can help middle school kids get in the habit of doing some things they may not want to do–such as getting off to school on time, calling in if they’re going to be late or change plans, and doing homework before watching TV.Teens, in particular, respond to praise and encouragement when they do something well or make positive choices. When you are proud of your son or daughter, say so. Knowing that they are noticed and appreciated by the adults in their lives can strengthen teens’ abilities to resist peer pressure, and knowing that a younger sister or brother is looking to them to set an example can be important, too.