The power of praise: helping children with challenging behaviour

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When you’re tired or at your wits’ end, it’s easy to let your frustrations out and forget to compliment a child or young person in your care. When you’re dealing with frequent challenging behaviour it can feel as though nothing you do makes any difference.

The first step to turning this situation around and encouraging healthy behaviours is to pay attention to the child or young person’s individual strengths and positive behaviours. Aim to say at least six positive things for every one time you say something negative.

If you find it hard to find things to praise, remember that encouragement is also a powerful motivator. Praise and encouragement every day, no matter how small the effort or achievement, builds up over time.

Give praise where praise is due:

Praise is when you tell a child or young person what you like about them and about their behaviour. Praise helps children and young people feel good about themselves. And when they feel good about themselves they are less likely to engage in challenging behaviour.

As soon as a child or young person in your care does something good, get their attention. Look them in the eye and tell them exactly what you liked about what they did. For example, rather than saying ‘Good girl,’ say ‘I like the way you packed away your blocks after you finished playing with them.’

Be careful not to praise a child or young person unless they have actually done something good. Otherwise they will learn that they will get praise no matter what they do. Your praise must also be genuine – children and young people can tell the difference.

Give plenty of encouragement:

Encouragement is praise for effort rather than achievement. Encouragement helps children build confidence and resilience. By acknowledging effort you are taking the pressure off achieving.

For example, you could say, ‘I like the way you are trying hard to remember to take a deep breath when you’re feeling angry.’ You can also give encouragement for future events, for example; ‘I know you’re feeling nervous about the test, but you’ve worked hard. No matter what mark you get, you have done your best.’

Give occasional rewards:

A reward, such as a special treat or an extra privilege, is away of saying ‘well done’. For example, you could make a child’s favourite meal for dinner, or give your teenager an extra 10 minutes of screen time. Be careful not to over-do the rewards – you don’t have to give a reward every time a child or young person does something good. Your praise in itself is a reward.

Of course, there will be times when you will need to tell a child or young person that their behaviour is not acceptable; for example, if they hit or kick you. But by focusing on the positive you will break the negative criticism cycle. Not only will the child or young person feel better about themselves, you will also feel more positive as a carer.

If you are a Challenge Community Services carer in need of support, please contact your case worker.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster care, please contact our team by emailing fostercare@challengecommunity.org.au
For more tips on how to manage challenging behaviour, download our e-book.

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Author: Challenge Community Services

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About Challenge Community Services

60 years ago we were a small band of parents and friends seeking support services for our children with disabilities. Today, Challenge has grown to be one of the largest community support services in New South Wales. We provide support to over 2 500 people from Albury to Lismore, Sydney, Dubbo, Tamworth and beyond. With over 600 staff, 85 of which have a disability, we strive to comply with and exceed all standards required under State and Federal Acts.

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