The Power of Positive Recognition

3 min read   •   April 30, 2019
Linda van Niekerk; educational psychologist

“I believe the children are our future.

Teach them well and let them lead the way.

Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”

Whitney Houston

We all have a need for recognition. No matter how big or how small, the words “well done” makes anyone feel proud of themselves. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. A lack of recognition leads to feelings of inferiority and incompetence.

Parents should keep in mind that children’s sense of self is shaped by the message they receive from those around them, especially their parents, teachers and caregivers.

It is important to note that parents should not only give recognition for what their children achieved but also for who they are – as this is part of being loved unconditionally. When children fail but tried their best, their efforts should be praised. Children’s personal growth should not be attached to success and performance but to their efforts and their willingness to try.

The best way to motivate your child to behave well and strengthen the effectiveness of any discipline is to make sure that you praise your child more often than you criticise your child. Try to catch them when they are good and comment on it. Your approval is what shapes their behaviour. Faber and Mazlish give clear guidelines on how to praise children in their book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (1982). They advise that when you praise a child, instead of evaluating them, you should describe what you see (I see a clean floor, a smooth bed and books neatly lined up on the shelf). You should then describe what you feel (It is a pleasure to walk into this room). And thirdly, sum up your child’s praiseworthy behaviour with a word (You sorted out your blocks, your cars and animals in separate boxes – that is what I call organisation).

Praising children by following these guidelines will motivate them to want to be more cooperative and to try their best. When you praise your kids, they get the message that they are loved and that what they do is acceptable and appreciated.

Praising your children in this way will help them learn to recognise that what they did is special and that they can take pride in it. They can learn to praise themselves and to recognise and value their own efforts and talents.

Linda van Niekerk is an educational psychologist with her own private practice in Pretoria. She works with children of all ages. Contact her on 082 567 9156 or send an email to