Girl making her own bedI hear so many things about giving attention towhat you want more of. But it is amazingly
difficult to not comment when my children are
doing something bad.  In our household this would
mean ignoring the things I don’t want my teenage
girls to do, like spending too long watching TV,
And commenting when they are doing something I
really want them to, such as tidying up after

Since we were children we have been criticized and told
what to do. We have the examples of our parents and
every teacher in history, who have picked up on our
mistakes. If a child is picking their nose, it takes a
herculean effort not to suggest they stop, and seems a bit
odd to then remark that they are not picking when you
notice that they have stopped.

I have been trying to introduce the technique of
‘descriptive praise’ into my daily communications with
my children. (This is a technique described by Noel Janis
Norton, and taught by the Parent Practice on their
parenting courses). It involves noticing all the small
improvements in effort, attitude or progress that a child
makes, and describing exactly what it is that you notice
about their behaviour. For example ‘I notice that you
cleared away nearly everything you used to make your
tuna pasta’.

I’m going to have to say, though, that this is going to be a
difficult habit to learn. It is not natural to remark on when
your child is NOT doing something like arguing or
watching TV. I am a particularly unobservant person, so
it takes a great deal of detective work on my behalf to
notice when something HAS been tidied away, when all I
can see is the rest of the mess that is left on the kitchen table.

I’m sure by now you are wondering why bother? Why
not tell a child off when they do something wrong, and
when they do something right just ignore them? I’m
going to have to agree… it seems pretty strange to me
too. However the big question is ‘does nagging and
telling off work?’ Have your children stopped all of their
annoying habits and do they co-operate and behave really
well? If not, then it may be worth giving ‘Descriptive praise’ a try.

When I nag or suggest my child does something I watch
them tuning me out. I can see their eyes glaze over. And
this week I have been aware that I do exactly the same
when my husband suggests I improve in some small
matter (actually it was me being impatient). I tuned him
out and started making for the door.

So this week I have taken a step back and just watched.
I have tried to comment when my children do something
right, and to say exactly what it is about the action that I
appreciated or how it demonstrated some sort of quality
that they are developing. But I’m aware that I don’t do it
nearly enough -maybe only a few times a day. However I
am beginning to see the real value of descriptive praise
and am going to really try to improve the number of little
things I notice. Why? Because this week mealtimes and
conversations with my family have been happier
occasions. I am talking more with my girls than ever
before. So it’s got to be worth the effort!