Tag Archives: Behaviour

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

Tips for a good night’s sleep

We are currently running a sleep appeal. Have you or your child ever had problems sleeping? Read this blog for some brilliant tips from our Sleep Practitioners. 

Consistency is key

If your child wakes in the night, return them to bed, tuck them in and say, “It’s night time (name) go to sleep”. Don’t enter into any discussions or negotiations.

Social story

If your child has learning disabilities and has troubles settling or sleeping, especially if they are scared of having bad dreams, try using a social story explaining what dreams are and that nightmares are just bad dreams.

Natural wakings

We all wake naturally four to five times a night. Once we have learned to sleep, we don’t wake fully during these natural wakings. One of the common reasons a child will wake fully is because the conditions have changed – for example,  if you were with them when they fell asleep, then vanished.

Family photo

Try putting a family photo in your child’s room, as that can be comforting for natural night wakings.

Smells like mum

Child sleepingTry putting your own pillow case on your child’s pillow, as the scent will be comforting.

No controlled crying

We don’t advocate controlled crying as an approach as it’s too emotional for parent and child, and only makes your child over stimulated.

Golden hour

There is a ‘golden hour’ before bedtime.  If your child is lying in bed for too long before bedtime, they will not associate bedroom with sleep. If their bedtime routine is too short they will be too awake.

Keep it boring

Children come up with some fantastic distraction techniques to avoid going back to bed at night! If your child asks for a drink, offer water. If they’re thirsty they’ll drink it. If not, they’ll get tired of being given a boring drink after a couple of nights and stop asking.

No vanishing acts

Make sure your child is awake when you kiss goodnight. If you stay while they fall asleep and then sneak out, it will only upset them when they wake naturally in the night and you have vanished.

Start earlier

Children reading a book in bedIf your child is taking a long time to fall asleep, start their bedtime routine earlier, so they associate bed with sleep.

Give it time

It can take two weeks for a child to learn a new behaviour, so consistency is key to whatever approach you take. Parents who say they’ve ‘tried everything’ may not have given each approach long enough.

Sleep diary

It is not uncommon for children with cerebral palsy to wake frequently at night because they become stiff or experience pain, and need repositioning. Using a sleep diary and hypnogram can help you work out when to do it so your child is in a deeper stage of sleep and you don’t fully wake them.

Gradual changes

Disability can be exhausting and many disabled children need extra sleep. As children get older they will need less sleep, so make gradual changes, say around puberty, moving bedtime by 15 minutes every 3 days.

Special teddy

Try keeping a teddy that belongs to you close to you for several days, then allowing your child to look after it over night and return it to you in the morning. This can act as reassurance that you will be there in the morning because you will need your teddy back.

Gradual exit

Mother checking on child sleepingIf your child gets comfort from you being there while he/she goes to sleep at night, try making a gradual exit. Start by sitting on the bed holding their hand with a glove on, removing yourself gradually over 2/3 weeks leaving them with the glove.

Hold off the lavender

Too much lavender can prevent the production of melatonin, so don’t overdo lavender in the bath before bed. Make sure bath is half an hour before bedtime, giving time for your child’s body temperature to drop.

Wind down time

Start preparing your child for sleep an hour before bedtime, turning off the TV, computer etc, and doing some reading or fine motor activities which will help with relaxation and the production of melatonin.

Were these tips helpful? Please donate to our sleep appeal so that more families of disabled children can get the support they need.

For more great tips and ideas, why not see what other parents have tried. Check out our fab new sleep tips section.