Constructive Praise: How giving it to your teen will prevent nagging

We've all heard the phrase ‘constructive criticism'. And, you've probably received some from a well-meaning person. But, have you ever thought about ‘constructive praise'?

The phrase ‘constructive praise' first came out of my mouth when I was on a parents' only coaching call for The Extraordinaries Club, my online hub that supports parents and students through the exam years, teaching them how to study and communicate effectively to reduce stress for the whole family.

I was rather pleased with this idea so I wrote it down with the intention of writing a blog post about it. And, here I am!

Why constructive praise?

We're all rather inclined to say ‘Good boy / girl,' ‘Well done,' or ‘Good job' to our children. However, this kind of praise can be kind of baffling, a little bit confusing and lull people into a false sense of security.

Let me explain.

If you've done a good job by accident, or you thought you hadn't done a particularly good job, being told that what you've done is good is baffling, because you don't know why people are saying that and you can't replicate what you did to make it ‘good' because you don't know what that was.

It can also give a false sense of security. If you just think you're doing a ‘good job' you think the job is done and no more work is required, and that you don't need to spend the time to understand why what you've done is good, or how you can make it better.

It's this kind of thing that can lead to a dangerous fixed mindset which turns people off their work. I've written about why bright students fail, for this very reason, before.

Just in case you haven't come across the term before, a fixed mindset is when you believe that you have a certain level of ability in a subject or skill that will never change, no matter how much or little work you put into it. Having a growth mindset means that you believe, and live the belief, that effort applied in the right way will improve your skill and results. These concepts were put forward by Stanford University Professor of Psychology, Carol Dweck and you can read more about them in her book, Mindset.

How do you give constructive praise?

To remedy this situation, you need to learn to give constructive praise. So, how do you do that?

Well, it's simple really. Instead of saying, ‘Good job'. You give praise and then give an example of what you thought was good.

Here are some examples.

1. Your teenager is usually distracted by their phone the whole time they're doing their homework, it all takes far too long as a result and everyone gets stressed. One day, they forget to take their phone out of their bag, focus on their homework and get it done much quicker.

In that situation, I'd say, ‘Great job with you homework today, you seemed really focused.'

Now, depending on your teen, you might take this a step or two further by asking them why they thought they were more focused. Hopefully, they will be able to identify the fact that they didn't have their phone next to them and then it's come from them, rather than you.

2. Your teenager has done an English essay and asked you to read it through for them. You may not know much about how to write a good English essay, but you notice they've used a lot of quotations from the text.

In this situation, you could say, “You've made you point really well, and it's so much more powerful because you've got quotations from the text in every paragraph.”

This will really reinforce for them that using quotations is a good thing.

Incidentally, I have a blog post on how to learn quotations so that you can use them effectively in an exam. And, inside The Extraordinaries Club's How to Revise English Literature Masterclass, Mr Salles gives his top English teacher tips on this tricky part of revision as well as how to use quotations effectively in literature exams!

3. Your teenager is revising and using flashcards. You notice that they keep going back to the flashcards they know least well, rather than focusing on the ones that they're comfortable with.

You say to them, “I noticed your efforts to focus on the flashcards you know least well. I really admire you for doing that as it's not easy, but I know it'll pay off in the exam.”

This should make them glow with pride in their ability to do the right, but difficult, thing.

Check out my blog post on how to use flashcards effectively if your teen needs more help with this!

Praise effort, not results

The most important thing to do, in order to cultivate a growth mindset, is to praise your child's effort rather than results. Praising results gives them the subconscious message that you're interested in marks and grades. Whereas praising efforts lets them know that you appreciate their effort and hard work, you've seen what they're putting into their studies, and you will love them just the same no matter what the results are.

Just remember to give their effort constructive praise, not just praise alone!

Put it into practice

Now it's over to you. I challenge you to find something that your teenager does in the next week that you can give constructive praise. Then, see what the results are. If you keep doing it, you will mould their behaviour in a positive way (without nagging!) over time. And, if you need a little bit more help with this, in The Extraordinaries Club we have a whole module on Mindset to help students (and parents) cultivate a growth mindset for success. Throughout the modules, there is also advice to parents on how to communicate with your teenager without nagging so that you all live in a more pleasant atmosphere in the build up to your exams. Finally, I help parents every week on the coaching calls and in the Facebook group to find ways of managing their teens in a positive way.

Click here to find out more about The Extraordinaries Club and join.


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