how to use praise to help your child develop RESILIENCE

Praise is a powerful parental tool.

Aside from its usual role- letting your kids know they are on the right track and making them feel good- praise can also be used to help your child develop RESILIENCE.

Here's how...

understanding behaviour

Human beings are a bit like icebergs, you only get to see a fraction of who we really are: our behaviour.

And when we talk about our kids being resilient, what we really mean is that we want them to behave in a resilient manner.

But as you can see below, behaviour is only the visible manifestation of what is happening below the surface.

So if you want to help your child to be resilient, you need to help them develop the areas that contribute to their behaviour. And just like the iceberg, it's the bits that you can't see that matter most.

resilient behaviour

Looking at the diagram, if you want to have the most impact it makes sense to start with the deepest part, the bit that drives every other part of the behaviour iceberg: identity.

But you can't just tell your child that they are RESILIENT, they won't believe you without evidence.

This is where PRAISE comes in. 

Praising your child when they behave resiliently helps them to gather the evidence they need to see themselves as a resilient person- see the feedback loop in the diagram.

what to praise - exactly?

You can't just praise any random old thing either, you need a framework, something (preferably) scientifically robust that will help you to produce the results that you want, namely a resilient child.

So for this we use the the VIA Institute's 24 Character Strengths.

Research has shown that these 24 strengths are universal, they are the building blocks of our identity.

We all use them (to greater or lesser degrees) and it is your unique blend of these strengths that helps to make you, you.

It's because they form our identity that we use them as the framework to praise our kids for their resilience.

It's the perfect behaviour/ identity feedback loop.

which strengths do you praise?

Of the 24 universal strengths we have identified 6 that are essential to resilience:

ZEST, HOPE, SELF-REGULATION, CREATIVITY, BRAVERY & PERSEVERANCE

Developing these 6 strengths will give your child the ability to deal with whatever comes their way on the path of life.

how these strengths help develop resilience

The path of life diagram above describes any journey your child will take.

To get good grades, have good relationships, to get a good job, to be successful, they will face many challenges and obstacles, they are going to have to deal with failure and overcome setbacks.

  • ZEST: the RESILIENCE engine. Life is never easy, and to successfully overcome the many obstacles and challenges they will face, your child will need to do so with energy, enthusiasm and determination.
  • HOPE: it's precisely when we need HOPE the most that we feel it the least. When things go wrong your child will need a positive-can-do attitude, optimism, faith, and the self-belief to act and to see things through.
  • SELF-REGULATION: unglamorous but necessary- without it your child is in trouble: self-discipline, good decisions, control of thoughts, words, emotions and actions are all fundamental to success.
  • CREATIVITYan essential but often overlooked part of resilience. To solve life's challenges, to overcome it's inevitable obstacles- the more creative the thinker, the better the potential solution.
  • BRAVERYrejection and failure are on the opposite side of the success coin. Your child will need to be BRAVE enough to pick themselves up after each fall, and they'll need to learn how to embrace failure rather than fear it.
  • PERSEVERANCE: to keep going after yet another setback, to bounce back from adversity, to not give up on their goals even when all looks lost, are essential parts of being resilient.

how to praise

We've based our 3-step praising method on the work of the brilliant Dr. Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP.

  1. 1
    You praise the specific ACTION or BEHAVIOUR.
  2. 2
    You link their ACTION of BEHAVIOUR to one of the 6 RESILIENCE character strengths
  3. 3
    You celebrate- preferably with a physical touch to reinforce the praise (high-five, hug, pat on the back etc...). 

Here's an example.

  1. 1
    "Hey, I'm impressed with how you didn't give up there."
  2. 2
    "You really showed your strength of PERSEVERANCE."
  3. 3
    "Well done!" And then high five.

some praise do's

  • Praise as close to the event happening as possible, the uplifting effects of praise have a short half-life.
  • Be enthusiastic, smile, use your voice tone and gestures to indicate they've done a great job, this tells your child you mean what you say​​​​
  • The nonverbal ending helps to emphasise the message: high five, pat/ kiss on the head, kiss, hug, whatever is comfortable and appropriate.

some praise don't's

  • Don't link the praise to them being 'good' i.e. "Well done for doing X, you are such a GOOD BOY/ GIRL." - this can make your child feel that they are only "good", when they do something you praise them for. 
  • Don't link your LOVE or HAPPINESS to praise: "Well done, Daddy loves you so much for doing this and it makes me very HAPPY ." You love your child for who they are not because of the things they do- you risk training your child to do things to please you.  
  • No caveats at the end: "Well done, for doing X... why can't you always be like that?" - this is a no-no, it totally negates the praise you've just given.
  • Never praise by telling them they are "amazing", "beautiful", "clever", or "talented". Of course you think this, but these traits are highly subjective and can build false self-esteem. 
  • Never just praise the outcome, results are not controllable, effort and process are. Praise contingent upon a successful outcome is a surefire way to raise a lifelong people-pleaser. If your child did well on a test, praise them but also praise them for the work that they put in to achieve the result.
  • Don't overpraise in an attempt to build self-esteem, praise dished out for any old 'achievement' has the exact opposite effect: kids know you are being disingenuous and will become immune to your efforts.

a challenge

To introduce you and your child to the world of praise and character strengths, we have a 7 day challenge for you.

It will help you both to recognise resilient behaviour and to begin to make the connection between behaviour and identity.

You can focus on one RESILIENCE character strength each day, or just go through the list at the end of the day and see which behaviour your child has exhibited.

Remember to praise them as well.

Once the week is over, you can use the list to help you in spotting when your child behaves resiliently.

And if you want to see how we teach our kids the skills and abilities of RESILIENCE, click here.