How to Turn Praise into Acknowledgment

Most people were raised hearing praise statements, and now that they are adults they give praise to their children and students today. However, as is discussed in Discipline Without Stress and Parenting Without Stress, acknowledgments are far better than praise. But how do you turn off the urge to praise? How do you turn praise into productive comments that encourage and acknowledge all who are choosing to do the right thing? After all, sometimes, it seems to be an automatic reaction to say “Good job!” just for the sake of saying something.

Realize that changing praise into an acknowledgement is nothing more than a ‘twist’ in thinking, a small adjustment in how you phrase things. Instead of heaping on praise and “tying” the child to you by encouraging them to want to please you, readjust your thinking and bring to their attention things that they are successful at—and then let them make their own judgments.

So instead of saying, “I am so proud of you. What a good boy you have been,” readjust a bit and say something like, “I noticed you worked very hard on that assignment. How do you feel about it?”

In other words, tell students what you noticed, and then allow them to feel within themselves the satisfaction of a job well done. You’re simply giving them the facts, and then allowing them their own interpretation of those facts.

Here are some specific examples:

Observation from the teacher:

You children lined up without any delay today when it was time to go to Music class.

Children’s Interpretation:

We can line up without delay. We are successful at managing how we line up.

Observation from the teacher:

I noticed you sat at the carpet today without making one noise to bother another person.

Child’s Interpretation:

I can sit on the carpet and manage myself.

Observations from the teacher:

When you were outside on the playground yesterday you said you were at Level B because you were bothering another child. Today you went out and played without bothering anyone! What level do you think that is? (C or D) Wow, how did you manage that today? How do you feel about that?

Child’s Interpretation:

I can raise my behavior level all by myself. I can be successful at playing without bothering someone. I am a capable child. I feel good about myself.

With the Discipline Without Stress approach you do not have to pull away the praise when a child is choosing inappropriate behavior, because you do not rely on praise to control them. Instead, you teach young people to take responsibility for acting in appropriate ways.