It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

How to Praise a Difficult Child

As a parent, have you ever tried to compliment your difficult child, only to have it turn into an argument or fight? (ODD kids especially are good at trying to analyze your motive or drag you into a conflict on their turf: words.) If so, here’s a little strategy that is very effective because … well, because after the compliment you’ll disappear! (It’s quite difficult to argue with someone who isn’t there.)

There are two components to pulling off this intervention. First, you’ll need a pre-planned, quick exit. Second, you’ll need an argument-resistant compliment or expression of thanks, something that can be objectively verified. (“Thank you for being nice today” is not an objective statement and, with some youngsters, it can turn into a noose around your neck. “I noticed you put the lawnmower back in the garage” would be objective and verifiable.)

Here’s an example of a father speaking to his teenage daughter as he is standing at the front door, car keys in hand:

Oh, Terri, I wanted to tell you something. I’m headed to the store to get some whipped cream for dinner, but I didn’t want to neglect to mention this. It’s important. Every day this week you’ve gotten out your homework and attended to it without your mother or I needing to remind you at all. That’s wonderful, Terri. Thanks. Gotta go.

And he leaves quickly, before there’s even an opportunity for Terri to say anything.

Now, if she really wants to say, “Thanks, Dad, thanks for noticing,” she can say it when Dad returns. It’s up to her, but there’s no need for an obligatory response on her part, nor is there an opening for her to whip up an argument or “attitude.” The good stuff happens in the silence as Dad is driving to the store.

The beginnings of positive change don’t make any sound at all.


James Sutton, Psychologist


June 30, 2009 Posted by | Difficult Child, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment