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Praising child compliance: Reinforcement or ritual?


Praising child compliance is a common therapeutic recommendation to parents with noncompliant children. There are currently no studies documenting the independent contribution of the praise component to successful parent training programs. Three projects were designed to evaluate the hypotheses underlying the use of contingent praise routines. Namely, it has been suggested that conduct-disordered children are relatively unresponsive to adult approval at pretreatment, yet become responsive by posttreatment. In contrast to the hypotheses, data indicated that child compliance levels were not associated with child responsivity to maternal social reinforces; noncompliant children were responsive to maternal praise both before and after treatment; child responsivity to maternal praise did not covary with successful treatment; previously noncompliant but successfully treated children continued to comply to maternal instructions after contingent praise was withdrawn; a nonclinic child demonstrated extensive compliance persistence in the absence of contingent praise. Praising child compliance appeared to be more of a polite ritual than an active therapeutic component for altering noncompliance.

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Correspondence to Mark W. Roberts.

Additional information

The author is grateful to the many students who have participated in these projects. Special thanks go to Lynn McIsaac, Lisa Grange, and Dan Anderson for their assistance with Project 3.

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Roberts, M.W. Praising child compliance: Reinforcement or ritual?. J Abnorm Child Psychol 13, 611–629 (1985).

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  • Training Program
  • Successful Treatment
  • Maternal Instruction
  • Parent Training
  • Independent Contribution