Gretchen Breuner, a graduate of UC Berkeley and a San Diego resisdent, is the author of the eBook How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure. She was featured in the April 2011 issue of Parents Magazine, blogs for a number of sites and has a new book coming out this fall. She is also available for speaking engagements and coaching. Visit her website to find out more,

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Using Praise Rather Than Punishment

I was flying home from New York yesterday and was mesmerized by this 14mo old little girl on my flight. She and her mom were ahead of me while boarding the plane, and (as luck would have it) she sat in the row ahead of me. I was traveling without my own children and am often perplexed by the question of, “Do I try and help the single parent, completely understanding their situation, or do I stay clear, as a means of vacation from active duty?” Most often, I try and help.

In any case, “Gracie” and I stared at each other through the seats, playing a game of peek-a-boo, as we waited for departure. Many times when I play with small children, I marvel at the joy they find in the little things. This time, however, I felt like I was watching her mind work and remembered why it is so important to use praise over punishment.

When you praise a child, you are not only helping their self-confidence, but you are actually helping to wire their brains for positivity as well as creativity. Rewarding with praise gets processed by the dopamine neurons, which means the child goes something like this: Wow, I just got a huge smile when I did X, and that makes me feel so good! I’ll try that again!

This happens because that new information in the child’s brain goes into what’s called our working memory. There, it is stored until it’s needed for later use, creating a new connection, a new link that can help solve future problems.

Finally, this new thought goes back to the “happy place” of the dopamine cells in the midbrain, so the neurons learn from the new idea. Simply put, all this positive praise creates great connections and not only leads to better problem solving but also creates a loop of creativity.

So, when your two-year-old is acting out, trying to remember that praise-not-punish can be very, very difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. But, when you can take a moment and think about what your long-term outcome is, praise will lay a great road of connection, creativity and happiness.

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