Be specific in praise of others

On November 24th 2013 an Early Childhood Educator on Campbell Live (TV3 New Zealand) said something that rocked my world in terms of how to be a good teacher. I mean teacher in the widest sense here: Friend, parent, leader, manager or whatever. It applies specifically to anyone who is looked to for knowledge on how to do things, and I would argue that sometimes you should apply it even when not specifically asked to do so, but that's for a different post.

Peeing on the floor

The teacher explained that if a child remembered to put the seat down after going to the toilet, a bad teacher with good intentions might say:

"Good girl."

The problem with this statement is that you never know what goes on inside the head of a child. Exactly as it is with a dog (I have since learned). With animals it is all about being fast, but with humans, even the tiny ones, you can aim your praise specifically at the action that you want to praise.

The problem arises when you hand out generic praise that might be attributed to an action that you do not wish to praise, as an example, peeing on the floor. To avoid such confusion, the correct thing to say in this case would then be:

"Good that you put the toilet seat down."

By steering the thoughts of the recipient of your praise, you ensure that you encourage the desired behaviour.