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Praising Teenagers Effectively

One way to encourage behavior change is by using effective praise for kids, including teenagers, in a positive-negative ratio of at least four to six positives to every one negative. This may sound a bit tedious for some, but it is very realistic if adults truly pay attention to behavior and learn to praise specifically and genuinely.


Praise is a sincere, positive evaluation of a person or an act. While general praise such as “great job,” “you are smart,” or “that's awesome,” etc., is nice to hear, over time, it can begin to mean little to your kid/teen. One of the keys is to offer very specific praise for very specific behavior.


Learning to observe and describe behaviors back to the teen (when possible) is a way of doing this. A general rule of practice is to use one or two specific behavioral sentences when praising a teenager. In contrast, when describing inappropriate behavior to a teenager, use only one brief specific behavioral sentence. As an example of effective praise, a parent could say, “I appreciate you finishing your homework last night, as well as spending 20 minutes helping your sibling with their spelling.”


Praise is one of the most powerful tools that can be used when engaging teenagers. I provide therapy for teens from all backgrounds, and I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t appreciate a genuine comment of praise.


Behaviors to Praise With Teenagers


Some behaviors you might consider praising with your teen are those you desire to see more of. See the list below for some examples:

  • Accepting decisions

  • Completing their chores

  • Being out of their room

  • Contributing to conversations

  • Helping or cooking dinner

  • Helping younger siblings

  • Completing homework assignments

  • Communicating honestly

  • Showing Respect

  • Contributing to a positive home environment


Look at the following general areas for opportunities to praise:


  • Things your child already does well (and when you want them to repeat)

  • Improvements in behavior

  • Attempts at learning new skills


The Steps of Effective Praise

  1. Show approval/identify positive behavior.

  2. Acknowledge the positive behavior you see

  3. Give a meaningful reason.

  4. Give a reward (optional)

Effective Praise improves your relationship, their confidence, and mood
Happy Teenager

Let’s look at an example of how to use this with a teenager.


1. Show approval of an identified positive behavior.

“Jaiden, I am proud of you!” (Smile or pat your child on the shoulder/back).


2. Acknowledge the positive behavior you see.

”You came home on time.”


3. Give a meaningful reason.

“When you obey your curfew, it shows me you are responsible and can be trusted when you go out with your friends.”


In the example above, the child can learn exactly what they did right and why it was so important. This increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated the next time and encourages good time management.


Let’s look at another example.


1. Show approval of an identified positive behavior.

“Hey, Evan. Thank you for letting me know how you feel about your new chores.”


2. Acknowledge the positive behavior you see.

”When I let you know the chores were changing and explained what they would be, you took a deep breath and let me know how you were feeling.”


3. Give a meaningful reason.

"This allows us to discuss things so I can help you manage your feelings in healthy ways.”


Now let’s look at one more example of using effective praise shortly after having to correct a behavior. Let’s say your child just got their cell phone taken away, and instead of arguing and making excuses, they accepted your decision. We are going to use the same steps as above.


1. Show approval of an identified positive behavior.

“Nice job, Tamika. You handled that situation very well.”


2. Acknowledge the positive behavior you see.

”You excepted your consequence well by saying ok and remaining calm, cool, and collected.”


3. Give a meaningful reason.

"This shows me that you are learning to handle frustration more maturely and show respect.”


If you decide to provide a reward, make sure the size of the reward fits the behavior you want to reinforce or encourage.


*While face-to-face dialogue is imperative to helping teens learn how to build, manage, and maintain healthy relationships, don't be afraid to effectively praise your child over the phone and via text.


You may not catch every positive behavior, just like you won’t catch all of the negative behaviors as well. As children grow in maturity level, the skill of effective praise should be used frequently and intermittently. Being more positive with your child will encourage your child to become more positive with you. Using effective praise can help create greater family harmony.


Tips for Getting Started

  1. Stay calm and practice using this skill at neutral times.

  2. Start small. Begin with praising things that come to mind quickly and then move on to more challenging situations.

  3. Don’t be afraid to write things down and reference your notes.

  4. Remember, you may sound robotic at first. It’s going to take a while before effective praise becomes more natural.

  5. Remember to praise yourself for the changes you are making too!


P.S. If you need specific answers to help you turn things around with your tween or teen so that you experience a more peaceful home and restore the lost connection and relationship you once had with them, please contact me for a parent coaching session. I would love to help you develop your own unique parenting plan that fits your parenting style.


If you know of a parent of a tween or teen who can benefit from parent coaching, or someone looking for therapy for a teen, then please share this blog link with them.


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