The Effective Use of Social Praise

Social praise - we all know what it is, and it seems fairly simple and straightforward to implement. It is truly one of the best reinforcers we have in our tool belt, because it's the easiest reinforcer to deliver! We don't have to pack or carry anything around, and it happens all of the time in the natural environment. So, it's a reinforcer the client is likely to continue to contact after therapy is discontinued and throughout the rest of their lives. We just have to remember to do it, and learn to do it well!

Here are a few suggestions to help make sure you get the most out of using social praise.

1. Provide praise for appropriate behavior

Provide praise for appropriate behavior more often than reprimands or corrective statements. This goes back to a general theme of "catch them being good". As a general rule of thumb, I recommend that there should be at least three praise statements for every reprimand or corrective statement delivered.

No one likes being harped on all of the time for all of the things they do wrong - so we have to make sure that we are delivering enough attention for all of the things that the clients are doing right. No child is "bad" 100% of the time - so there should be plenty of opportunities to praise appropriate behavior.

We tend to overlook them, because the behaviors are "expected" and sometimes we mistakenly feel like we shouldn't have to reward them because they are just what you are "supposed to" be doing. We have to train ourselves to look for these opportunities and see them differently - as opportunities to make a difference in the child's behavior.

2. When you identify these opportunities and deliver a praise statement, make sure the delivery comes across as genuine.

We don't want to become robotic about our praise by delivering it in a flat tone or absent-mindedly. We don't want the praise to sound dull or as if we are disinterested or bored in what is going on around us. You should display enthusiasm and make eye contact. Smile when you say it! You have to look like you mean it, and it has to be sincere - otherwise it won't mean anything to the child.

Likewise, the way you praise a 3 year old is probably going to look different from how you praise a 16 year old. Be mindful of delivering social praise to older clients or higher functioning clients in a way that may accidentally come across as patronizing to them. 

3. Vary praise each time you use it.

Another way you can help make sure your praise comes across as genuine and sincere is to vary the praise statement that you use each time you deliver one. Almost everyone's go-to praise statement seems to be "good job". But there are so many more possibilities! When we get into a routine of saying the same praise statement over and over again, that's when we run the risk of becoming a bit robotic about it. If we make a conscious effort to use other praise statements such as great, awesome, excellent, way to go, you rock, we keep things fresh and interesting for our clients.

4. Call out a specific behavior when delivering social praise as well.

Instead of just saying "awesome job!", you can say "that was an awesome job of coming to the table!" It is often helpful to callout for the child precisely what they did that was right and appreciated. Just keep the focus on the display of appropriate behaviors, rather than the absence of inappropriate behaviors. Avoid praise statements like, "that's a nice job of not hitting your friends" or "I like how you are not yelling". Those kinds of statements just draw attention back to the inappropriate behavior.

5. Lastly, social praise isn't always reinforcing to everyone right away. 

Sometimes, we have to help condition social praise to become a reinforcer. To accomplish this, you should always pair the delivery of a tangible reinforcer with a genuine and sincere praise statement. Using social praise as reinforcement may take a lot of trial and error. Remember to ask your BCBA if you have questions or need support. 

About: Circle City ABA is a state of the art autism center in Evansville, Indiana and Lafayette, Indiana. Specializing in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism and related conditions, Circle City ABA is a destination where play meets progress. Programs are designed with each child in mind. Circle City ABA offers in-center, Telehealth, and in-home services.
The journey begins at initial assessment from our qualified team. Several Hoosier's in the Evansville and Lafayette area are already loving Circle City ABA. Learn more about our services below. Request enrollment information at
Request Enrollment Information