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Catch Them Being Good: The Power of Praise

As parents and educators, it may seem like we are juggling never-ending to-do lists. When you add managing challenging behaviors to the list, it can quickly become overwhelming. Some days it may feel like all you are doing is telling children “no” or repeating instructions over and over. You may begin to ask yourself, “How many times do I have to tell him to stop before he listens to me?” This can quickly lead to frustration as positive interactions become less and less. Delivering praise for positive behaviors can be an easy way to increase appropriate behaviors, decrease challenging behaviors, and help maintain positive relationships. Use the power of praise!

 

Consider this classroom scenario

A student gets out of his seat often throughout particular periods when he is expected to work independently. His main interaction with teachers during this time is when they tell him to get back to his seat. His teachers are becoming increasingly frustrated because they keep reacting and repeating instructions, and the student continues to get out of his seat.

Instead of waiting for the student to get out of his chair and then correct him, what if the teachers provide praise and positive attention when the student is sitting in his chair doing his work? This simple strategy can emphasize and reinforce what to do instead of what not to do. In addition to possibly decreasing the unwanted behavior, this strategy will also increase the amount of positive interactions between the teacher and student.

 

Tips on using the power of praise

Provide specific praise: There are so many ways to say “good job.” Be genuine and enthusiastic when praising. Rather than just saying “Good job!”, use descriptive statements such as “Great job sharing your toys with your sister!” or “I like how you are completing this worksheet.”

Provide feedback in a way that works for the individual: Some enjoy being praised in front of other people. Others might become uncomfortable or embarrassed by public acknowledgment. So, find ways to praise that work best for the individual (e.g., a thumbs up, a subtle signal or cue, a pat on the shoulder, or a smile).

Provide praise immediately: When you provide praise immediately following appropriate behaviors, you are teaching that appropriate behavior results in positive attention. Don’t wait until the end of the day to tell the individual all of the great things that he did that day. Praise often throughout the day and immediately following appropriate behaviors.

Break down longer tasks: Break up longer or more difficult tasks into smaller tasks to create more opportunities to provide praise for small successes along the way. Consider the example of the student who struggles to remain seated for long durations of independent work. In this case, it may be more appropriate to initially target five minutes of seated work. It may also be important to carefully review the content of this student’s work to assure that it is relevant, meaningful, and well-matched to his current learning level.

 

But what if I don’t have time to keep praising throughout the day?

This is a common question brought up by parents and teachers. Consider the amount of time that one might spend reacting to problem behavior! Taking that extra five seconds to provide praise can promote positive changes and improve rapport. Our children and students do so many great things throughout the day that can be easily looked over. Challenge yourself to increase the amount of times that you “catch ’em being good,” and focus on the positives!

 

Hannah Roy, MS, BCBA, is an ASNC Clinical Professional in the Asheville region and can be reached at hroy@autismsociety-nc.org.

ASNC’s Clinical Department staff is composed of PhD and master’s-level licensed psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and former special education teachers. We provide individualized intensive consultation using evidence-based practices to support children and adults across the spectrum in home, school, employment, residential and other community-based contexts. We also deliver workshops to professionals on a wide range of topics including but not limited to, strategies to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors, best practices in early intervention, functional communication training, and evidence-based practices in instruction for K-12 students with autism.

To find out more, contact us at 919-390-7242 or clinical@autismsociety-nc.org.

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