Positive Encouragement

How to praise your toddler

Positive attention through encouragement and praise can enrich your toddler’s world, boost their self-esteem and make them feel valued. There are some who believe positive encouragement should be used sparingly to be effective. However, if used in the right way it can guide your toddler as they master new skills, and give them the motivation to stay focussed on a tricky task.

How to make the most of positive encouragement:

Be specific: We all find ourselves saying “good girl” or “great job” to our little ones, but these vague and unlabelled statements don’t really reinforce the good behaviour they are showing at the time.  Expressing detailed praise such as, “you showed good manners with Nana, well done”, let’s your toddler know why you’re proud of them, and they’ll be more likely to repeat the positive behaviour.  It does take a little more effort, but will pay off in the long run.

Show enthusiasm: Try to keep it light and fun when giving praise.  If said in a dull and boring tone (easy to do if you are busy or a little sleep deprived), your toddler could feel it was insincere and switch off from taking on your praise.  Using an eager voice will catch their attention if they are busy concentrating on their activity. Alternatively, a gesture such as a pat on the back or a high five will also let them know you’re impressed with what they’re doing.

Praise immediately: Catch your toddler being good, and praise the positive behaviour as soon as you see it.  It’s easy to say nothing and take the good behaviour for granted if they are playing quietly or doing something helpful without complaining.  These are the perfect opportunities to emphasise the behaviour you want to see more of.

Model self-praise: It doesn’t come easy to everyone, but a positive internal voice about your own actions will be reflected in your behaviour and ability to praise others, including your toddler. It’s important for children to hear their parents modelling self-praise so they can learn to do it themselves.  A comment made aloud such as, “changing the tyre was pretty tricky, but we handled it well”, shows how to self-evaluate and helps to shape your toddler’s self-motivation skills. 

Encourage them to complement others: With lots of praise happening at home, take things a step further and prompt your little one to notice the success of others. Whether it’s a friend or a family member, it will provide a good dose of social interaction and warm fuzzies all round.

Practice makes perfect: Even with encouragement, it will take time for your toddler to attempt and master a new behaviour. Be patient and reinforce positive behaviour in small steps as they make an effort, even if the behaviour isn’t always perfect.

All on board: If there is one or two behaviours you are wanting to focus on, ensure all the adults in your toddler’s life are informed and on board with consistent praise. You’ll achieve the positive behaviour much sooner this way.

Some phrases to get you started – Be specific

  • “Thank you for….”
  • “You’re such a good friend for….”
  • “Dad’s very proud of you for…”
  • “Good idea for…”
  • “You’re putting away the toys like Mum asked, you’re such a good helper”

Positive encouragement