A mum sitting on the sofa reading a storybook to her four children, who are all smiling

Descriptive praise – how to get your child to cooperate!

This is a guest blog from Noel Janis-Norton, our online community’s parenting advisor. Here she explains how to use a technique called ‘descriptive praise’ to get your child to cooperate. 

One of the most frustrating things about being a parent is the endless repeating and reminding, just to get our children to do what they’re told. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget that children aren’t born knowing that they’re supposed to do what we tell them to do. Cooperation is a habit that they need to learn.

Mum and dad playing at a table with their young disabled daughter

My definition of cooperation is that our children do what we ask them to do the first time we ask, and without a fuss. Thankfully, it’s never too late to guide children and teens into the habit of cooperating. Of course children aren’t robots, so they’ll never be perfect. But it really is possible for children and teens to get into the habit of cooperating 90% of the time. That’s what the programme I’ve developed – Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, can help you achieve.

If your children tend to ignore your instructions, or if they argue or say “in a minute,” a good question to ask yourself is, “how can I motivate them to want to cooperate?” You’ve probably noticed that threats and telling off don’t actually motivate, but luckily there are more effective ways. One useful technique is descriptive praise. This is the most powerful motivator I’ve ever come across.

Two young brothers and their sister playing with multi-coloured plastic bricks

Descriptive praise is the opposite of how we usually praise.  Generally, we try to encourage good behaviour by using lots of superlatives: “Terrific!”, “Wow!”, “Brilliant!”, “Amazing!” But superlative praise is so vague and exaggerated that the child is often unclear about what was so great.

Descriptive praise is far more effective. Just describe exactly what your child did right or exactly what they didn’t do wrong, being very specific:

“You did what I asked the first time. You’re cooperating.”

“You didn’t say “In a minute”. I asked you to set the table, and you did it straightaway, without any complaining.”

Mum kneeling on the floor hugging her son

In my book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, a mother explains how descriptive praise motivated her six and eight-year-old sons to become more cooperative:

“The day after Noël’s seminar, I told my boys to wash their hands for dinner. The younger one hopped up to do what I said. I jumped in with descriptive praise, saying “You’re a first-time listener.” As soon as I said this, his older brother got up, saying “I’m a first-time listener too”, and rushed off to wash his hands. I hadn’t expected my words to have such an effect. The next day my six-year-old washed his hands and came to the table, saying “Look Mum, I’m a no-time listener because I did it before you even asked!”

When you make a point of mentioning each time your children do what you ask the first time, soon they will be cooperating more and more. You can use this strategy to improve any behaviour that’s problematic.  Descriptive praise brings out the best in children, even in teenagers!

In this short blog I can only scratch the surface of this useful parenting tool, so you’re bound to have questions. In my CD called Descriptive Praise, The #1 Motivator, I answer all the questions parents have about putting descriptive praise into practice, and give lots of examples you can use to improve a wide range of family issues.

Dad mixing cake mixture in a bowl with his young daughter with cerebral palsy

As important as descriptive praise is, it’s not the only strategy you’ll need to bring out the best behaviour in your children and teens. But it’s the first strategy. So for the next four weeks, take the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting challenge and start using descriptive praise whenever you notice your children doing something right or even any tiny improvement. You’ll see positive results sooner than you can imagine.

Got a question for Noel? Ask her on our online community

One thought on “Descriptive praise – how to get your child to cooperate!”

  1. First, I beg your pardon. I’m in down by the difficultyes add at my own sick and my porr English. I should put my english “on fire” and get on since the end. Is a real conviction,but exist too any moments with my personality fall in down. Well my friends. Go away I’m begining to read your news, always and autentically happy Repeating and reminding, just to get aur children to do…Cooperation is the habit that they need to learn. Excellent. In fact, some part of us need in our adults-lives by the cooperation. They aren’t robots and never will to do. I undestand.
    Introduce ourselves in the idea calmer, easier,happier parenting can help they acieve better than and us satisfy. How can I motivate them.
    The descriptive praise, I read and grat attention and satisfy my curiosity, because is a real method for behaviour the objectives of our children, more exactly good habits. I add too to mantain our own attention looking for your strenghts points in your personality. Respect them. Help us to achieve a happy life, potential your strenghts points and help too an achieve the correct habits. Cooperate, interactions,good habits of paternality, to expect good and rather than persons that ourselves. Thank you very much. I appreciate so much your company.

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