How to Praise Your Child Effectively

First off, praise is a good thing and appears to be much more helpful than criticism. Sometimes parents will mention a concern about praising their child for completing tasks that they are expected to do (e.g., brush teeth, pick up toys). As long as you are giving your child the right kind of praise, this needn’t be a concern. Adults are praised for doing things they should be doing anyway because we know praise increases the frequency of a behavior. If you want something to happen more often, use praise.
Types of Praise
When we explore the effects of praise on children, it is important to look at what type of praise is given. Researchers distinguish between three types: person praise, product praise, and process praise. Person praise is focused on the individual’s abilities (e.g., “You’re so smart”). Product praise is centered on the work product (e.g., “That picture you drew is beautiful”). And process praise comments on the child’s effort (e.g., “You worked really hard on that”). Research on these three types has shown that all praise is not equal.
Person praise has been shown to have some detrimental effects. When we praise someone as a person and then he or she fails, it can result in increased amounts of helplessness. Failure can then be interpreted as being bad, stupid, or incompetent. Teachers have been aware of this for several decades and the main idea here is to praise the deed, not the doer.
When to Praise
Consider carefully when you praise your child. Is it only when they succeed? Only when they follow your directions? Look for different opportunities to praise your child. Failure experiences can be an excellent time to praise effort and process. Many times we scold children for being curious about their environment and experimenting with objects around them, but these can be great times to praise the intention and creativity of your child.
Praise and Gender
Research also shows that people differ in how they respond to praise based on their gender. For example, one study tested fourth- and fifth-grade students and found that after receiving person praise and then failing at a task, girls were more likely to show a decrease in motivation. Similarly, other studies have found that women in general are more impacted by evaluative feedback compared to men. Interestingly, boys receive more negative feedback in childhood, but this tends to be for non-intellectual behaviors, such as disorganization or rowdiness. When they do receive praise, almost all of the praise centers around boys’ intellectual abilities. Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to be praised for behavior and effort, not ability. Keeping this in mind can help you be more aware of when and how you give praise.
Giving praise (and constructive criticism) is an important aspect of parenting. If you have questions about this topic, please feel free to contact us at 612-470-4099.

4 Communication Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Relationship

Written by: Andrea Potthoff, PhD LP

Conflict is a normal part of any relationship and is to be expected between couples. However, couples fight in very different ways. Researchers have found that certain behaviors couples engage in during conflict can predict what couples will stay together. In his groundbreaking research, Dr. John Gottman identified behaviors that were related to divorce in couples. Here are the four behaviors known to predict divorce:


Our partners do not always do things we like and one of the best ways to improve a relationship is to communicate with your partner when this happens. However, it is important to distinguish between a complaint and criticism. It is fine to let your partner know you are annoyed at something he or she did, but it is not okay to attack your partner by criticizing his or her character. Criticism often includes the words always or never and makes negative claims about someone’s personality. Complaints, on the other hand, are usually specific and do not include negative assumptions about your partner’s personality or character.

Criticism Example: “You never take out the trash, you dirty slob.”


Of the four behaviors, this is considered the most problematic. Contempt is intended to damage and hurt the other person. It includes any show of disdain or disgust toward your partner. Of the four behaviors, the presence of contempt is the most predictive of divorce. Mockery and sarcasm are common examples of contempt. Spiteful acts, such as name-calling and physical destruction of your partner’s possessions, are also examples. Any physical abuse falls in this category.

Contempt Example: “Try to be more pathetic (eye roll).”


I have not met a couple yet who does not acknowledge engaging in some defensiveness during disagreements. It is a natural human reaction to defend your actions, but it tends to lead down an unproductive road. When you are more concerned with the next point you want to make than what your partner is saying, it is unlikely anything will get solved.

Defensiveness Example: “I may have done that, BUT you did this.”


This is the hardest one to describe, but couples usually recognize it in their partners pretty quickly. Stonewalling occurs when one partner withdraws or disengages from the discussion. They may do this by turning away or distracting themselves with their phone or other items. Stonewalling is more commonly displayed by men and is thought to be a reaction to becoming physiologically overwhelmed. Unfortunately, this type of behavior tends to escalate a disagreement and can lead to what psychologists call a pursue-withdraw communication pattern.

Stonewalling Example: “Whatever.”

Fortunately, there are concrete ways to overcome these communication challenges. If you have questions or are interested in therapy for addressing communication issues within your relationship, consider reaching out to us at 612-470-4099. We also offer the Couples Check-Up, a two-session assessment that can provide you with specific feedback about these communication patterns and recommendations for improving your relationship.

Anxiety in Children

Written by: Andrea Potthoff, PhD, LP

Anxiety can look different in children for a number of reasons. Children have a harder time labeling anxiety and may describe it as physical complaints like a stomach ache. Recognizing and treating anxiety in childhood can help prevent it from becoming a more debilitating problem later in life. Below are some of the most common types of anxiety seen in children.

Generalized Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is described as excessive worry about a number of topics. The worries are difficult to control and are often accompanied by distressing physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping or muscle tension. Unlike adults, children are more likely to worry about natural disasters, school events, and athletic performance. Children with GAD may also be overly concerned with rules and demonstrate perfectionistic behavior.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is also common in children. While this is a normal developmental stage for children, it can become problematic if it persists. Children with separation anxiety often worry about the safety of their parents. They may struggle with school refusal and have difficulty making friends when away from caregivers. They may complain of nightmares about separation and physical symptoms when left alone.

Social Anxiety

Anxiety in social situations occurs in children and needs to be distinguished from ordinary levels of shyness. Seventy-five percent of individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder report an onset between 8 and 15 years of age. Typically, social anxiety gets worse as children enter adolescence because their parents are less involved in their social life and they have the opportunity to avoid social situations if they want to. Avoidance tends to maintain anxiety and should be dealt with as soon as it appears.

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are not uncommon in childhood. A phobia is an intense, irrational fear that results in distress or impairment. A child who cannot be around dogs due to a fear of being bitten is an example. Phobias can be more unusual as well, such as intense fear about a specific character, activity, or bodily function, such as vomiting. Fears are normal and expected in childhood, but when a fear get in the way of a child’s daily activities, it has become a problem. Specific phobias are most likely to develop prior to age 10.


Fortunately, there are treatments for childhood anxiety that have been proven to be effective. Research shows that exposure therapy is the most effective treatment for most forms of anxiety. Exposure therapy is a brief, behavioral treatment aimed at reducing anxiety quickly. In exposure therapy, children are gradually introduced to a feared stimulus until they can learn to manage, tolerate, and cope with the feeling anxiety and its accompanying physical sensations. Exposure therapy is best when done in vivo (meaning in life), as opposed to imaginal exposure. A child can usually be exposed to the source of the anxiety (e.g., separation from parents, being close to a phobic object) in the office and the psychologist will assist the child in managing his or her anxiety.

If you are interested in speaking with a psychologist about anxiety in children, please call us at 612-470-4099.


Light Therapy

The winter months are upon us and with the change in seasons often comes a change in mood. Previously known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a change in mood in response to seasonal changes is now diagnosed as depression with a seasonal pattern. Depression is characterized by an extended period of time (two weeks or longer) of low mood, loss of interest, changes in sleep, weight or appetite changes, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, loss of energy, and/or thoughts of death. A seasonal pattern of depression is diagnosed when depressive episodes have occurred on a seasonal basis for at least the last two years and depression has not been experienced during the off-season (usually spring/summer) for at least two years.

It is important to recognize if your symptoms follow a seasonal pattern because this may open up different treatment options, one of which is light therapy. For decades, research has supported the use of light therapy for depression with a seasonal pattern. Light therapy is thought to affect the chemicals in your brain that help control mood and sleep. Research has shown a clear connection between sleep and depression and light therapy may work on this connection.

Only certain types of light are effective, so do your homework before investing in a light therapy box. It is recommended that a light box be 10,000 lux and you typically sit 16 to 25 inches from it. It is important that you do not stare at the light, but do have your eyes open while it is on. Typically, patients use the light box for 20-30 minute daily sessions. Light therapy is usually most effective when done in the morning, shortly after waking up. Here is one example of a light box:

NatureBright Light Box

Just as any treatment, there are some side effects to be aware of. In general, light therapy is considered safe and effective. Possible side effects include headache and irritability. Light therapy may be contraindicated for people with certain skin conditions, eye conditions, and/or bipolar disorder. It is recommended that you consult a professional to determine if light therapy is appropriate for you and how best to implement this treatment option.

One of the benefits of light therapy is that how quickly it starts working. Improvement in symptoms can sometimes be seen in a few days, whereas some anti-depressant medication may take weeks to start working. There is also evidence that a combination of light therapy and anti-depressant medication may be particularly effective. Recent research has also found light therapy to be useful for depression without evidence of a seasonal pattern. It has also been demonstrated to help with certain sleep disorders and dementia.

If you would like more information about managing depressive symptoms or incorporating light therapy, please call us at 612-470-4099.