In the restaurant business, there’s something called the “3:11 rule.” It means that if diners have a good meal and a positive dining experience, they are likely to tell three people about it. However, if their dining experience is sub-par or unpleasant (bad food, bad service), they’ll share their complaints with 11 people.
It’s just human nature for us to focus more on the negatives than the positives and to look for things to criticize rather than things to praise.
For parents, it’s easy to fall into this habit with our kids. Children are bound to misbehave and do things (sometimes, over and over) that we don’t like, and we should correct those behaviors. But if every interaction we have with our kids involves only correction and criticism, it won’t be long before they see us as naggers who look only for their faults and aren’t much fun to be around.
Think about it this way: Would you like it if your boss noticed only what you did wrong at work and never recognized the good things you do?
Whether your child is a toddler, a teen, or somewhere in between, he or she wants and needs your approval and support. One of the best ways to provide both is to frequently praise your child’s good behavior. It might not always be easy to find good behavior to praise, especially with younger children who are just learning how to use social skills and pro-social behaviors. But as parents, we have to make the effort because a balance of correction and praise is critical in building and strengthening healthy, nurturing parent-child relationships.
At Boys Town, we have an easy-to-remember formula for achieving this balance. It’s called the “4-to-1 rule.” It’s very simple: For every one time you correct your child, sincerely and enthusiastically praise him or her four times. You can praise your child for just about any positive behavior, from big things like cleaning his room to smaller things like simply saying “Please” and “Thank you.” When children receive praise for appropriate behavior, they are more likely to continue to repeat those behaviors and make them a permanent part of their daily life.
So make a list of the things your child does well. Then use it to get in the habit of looking for those positive behaviors and praising your child for them. In addition to giving verbal praise, you can hug your child or give him or her a pat on the back or a high-five. For special behaviors, you can even give your child a reward, like extra time playing video games or choosing what show to watch on TV.
You also can carry over your focus on praising your child to school. Let your child’s teachers know how praise motivates him or her at home and work out a plan for using praise more often in both places.
Praise is powerful. It has a lasting positive impact on families, helps children grow emotionally, and lets parents and their kids see each other in a more positive light.
For more information on positive feedback, check out Boys Town Parenting.