Making Praise Work – Who Hears It?

January 24, 2017

Often, when we have several children doing what we have asked and one child doing something else, we focus our attention on the child who is doing “the wrong thing” and try to encourage/nag him to do what he is supposed to be doing.

This goes against all the principles of the attention rule – remember you may be inadvertently encouraging that behaviour!  It also does not give the deserved attention to the children who ARE doing what you’ve asked and could result in them misbehaving too.

So, if you have a class full of children all lining up to go to assembly and one, Sam, out of line and messing with a display, instead of focussing your attention on Sam, praise those around him who are doing what you have asked: “Well done, Monifa, you’re lining up beautifully.” “Wow! Great lining up, Ryan.”  In the meantime, if you ignore Sam (look out for our blog on ignoring, coming soon) he is much more likely to line up than if you continue to shower him with attention for not doing!

The same principle applies at home: If you have asked three children to put away the toys and two of them are doing so but Alicia has decided not to, focus your attention on the desired behaviour. “Adnan, well done for putting away the toys!” “Thank you, Janelle, you’re doing a great job of tidying away the toys!”  Alicia will soon realise she is missing out on some positive attention and will slowly begin to put away the toys.  BUT, again, you need to be effectively ignoring Alicia’s non-compliant behaviour too.

Proximity praise is very powerful but we must consciously resist the urge to focus on the inappropriate behaviour.


Earshot Praise is great for all children to hear, but is particularly useful for those who may find praise hard to accept. This is when you praise the child to another person, so that the child overhears (without the child knowing you are doing it on purpose).

For example, in a classroom, a TA might say to a teacher (or vice-versa) “Jade did a fantastic job with her story writing this morning.” or “I am really pleased with the way Elijah shared at playtime.”

At home, you might be on the phone with grandma and say “Karina was really helpful to her sister this morning – I was so pleased.”  Or, when dad gets home, you could say “Bobbie did a great job of setting the table.”

This type of praise is also particularly useful when a child is struggling with a specific behaviour/task and it is becoming an issue. For example, if a child lacks confidence in reading, over-hearing a TA say, “Melissa read her new book really well.” will work wonders for her confidence. Similarly, at home, for a child who struggles to go to bed, over-hearing mum say “Joe was a star last night and went straight to bed and stayed in bed all night – he was amazing”.

Not only does earshot praise increase the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated, but it can also really boost a child’s self-esteem.

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