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How Meaningful Praise Can Improve Challenging Behaviors

AZA United offers a unique approach to behavior coaching called Clinical Family Coaching. The purpose of this program is to improve the stability of family lives, by identifying high priority behavior challenges and training family members to use effective behavior change methods. Clinical Family Coaching is for children, adolescents or teenagers with autism and their parents/guardians in Maricopa County. Individuals are commonly referred to our program for the treatment of self-injury, physical aggression, noncompliance, extreme tantrums, elopement (running away from caregivers), and other high-risk behaviors.

The first principle we teach in our Clinical Family Coaching program is High Quality Praise. Why?  Because the use of high-quality praise is one of the fastest, most effective ways to create behavior change. 

Here are five simple changes you can make to your praise that will help you see really big changes in the way your children behave.  

  1. Be Specific:  If you like what your child is doing, tell him specifically.  Saying “good job” is nice but if you say “Good job cleaning your room the first time I told you to” your child will know exactly what you are praising him for. 
  2. Be Genuine: Your children can tell when you really mean it.  If it is authentic for you and your child, give high affect praise so she knows you really mean what you are saying. 
  3. Be Close: Go to your child, make eye contact, and ensure you have his attention, so you know he heard your praise. 
  4. Be Immediate: Give praise as soon as you see the behavior you want or as soon as possible after.  Pairing the praise with the behavior will happen best if the praise is delivered when the behavior is happening. 
  5. Add touch: Positive touch reinforces your words by adding a boost of oxytocin to the brain.  This natural mood booster will give your child the warm fuzzies and ensure she feels great about the behavior you are praising. A fun way to add personalized touch is to create a special handshake that you share when your child has done something awesome! 

That’s it!  Five easy changes to ensure that your praise will help support the changes you want to see in your family.  It will take some practice but your efforts to change yourself will return great dividends in your home.  Good luck and get ready to pour on the high-quality praise!

Here is a graphic (click here to print it) that you can use to remind you of the five qualities of effective praise and to use them every day.

 AZA United's Family Support Team provides support and guidance for families facing any number of challenges as they navigate the Autism journey. This service is available at no charge to all members of the autism and developmental disability community. You may make a phone appointment that works with your schedule by visiting

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