A kind word goes a long way—even with unruly elementary-school kids. So says a study that had teachers use positive reinforcement when teaching children between the ages of 5 and 12, CNN reports. Lead author Paul Caldarella, a professor in the Brigham Young University, led a team that counted teacher reprimands and praise in 151 classrooms across Utah, Tennessee, and Missouri. Other research (like this and this) has linked teacher praise to better social outcomes or academic scores—and educators usually suggest a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of praise to reprimands—but Caldarella says there's been little research to test that ratio. Until now.
In Caldarella's study, half the classrooms were controls and half used a behavioral program called CW-FIT—which allows teachers to embed social skills with role plays, discussion, and repetition, then form student teams and praise students who follow positive behaviors. "Even if teachers praised as much as they reprimanded, students' on-task behavior reached 60%," says Caldarella. "However, if teachers could increase their praise to reprimand ratio to 2:1 or higher, they would see even more improvements in the classroom." Simply put: "The higher the praise the better the results," he tells ABC News. Teachers who praised most saw a boost of up to 30% in positive behavior. Caldarella advises parents to seek pro-praise teachers or share his study with their child's school. (Read more education stories.)