Positive Ways to Encourage Children

Encouraging words for children are commonly given out in early learning centres, school and in the home. When used right, these encouraging words can have powerful positive effects on children. This is because positive reinforcement can condition a child to repeat the praised behaviour, and everyone wants and benefits from positive behaviours.

A few of the benefits of using encouraging words can be – Improving children’s self-esteem. People with high self-esteem are found to be happier and mentally healthier, whereas those with low self-esteem tend to be psychologically distressed and perhaps even depressed. More benefits include – it increases intrinsic motivation to achieve, and enhances perseverance.

But what is exactly the right way to encourage positive praise? Everyone will always have a different take on this- but here are some ideas! And don’t forget words of encouragement, when used in the right manner can have powerful positive effects on children. The key is in how and when children are praised.

Be honest and authentic in your praise

We sometimes praise children purposely to boost their self-esteem, motivate them, encourage certain behaviour, or protect from them from hurtful feelings. However, if praises are not perceived as sincere and honest, children won’t feel very encouraged, and the words lost on them.

Be specific, descriptive and informative

Remember to be specific to what they did and how they did something – as opposed to “Good Job Timmy” – you could say “Great work on building that building out of blocks today Timmy – it showed you really put some great thought into the process!”

Praise and recognise children’s effort and the process, not the ability

When children are praised for their effort expended in doing it, they learn to attribute the success to their effort. Effort is a quality that we have the power to control or improve through hard work and practice. These children will, therefore, focus more on developing skills than on pursuing results as such.

Mastery encouragement helps children adopt a growth mindset

This learning orientation mindset can increase children’s intrinsic motivation, persistence and enjoyment. Like the adage “if at first, you fail, try, try again!”. So if not achieving something straight away, but the effort is praised, children are more motivated to try again and tend to improve in performance. In other words, creating children that are resilient.

Avoid Controlling Or Conditional Praise

Using an example of praise when a sports game may be won, and everyone receives a treat on the way home, as opposed to losing the game and no effort is rewarded – making the mindset that if I don’t win – I am not good enough – recognising not the good effort, only the loss. This can turn into a habit when children move into adulthood and their self-esteem and self-worth will only be validated when they “win” something. Children need to know that our relationship with them—our love for them—is not conditional upon winning or losing a game! There should never be conditions around praise for children.

Avoid Comparison Praise

Saying things like – “You’re nearly as good as the other person tidying up” – your half praising but also making a comparison to someone else and you need to remember always that no two children are ever the same. Putting doubt into children’s minds that there will always be someone better – What you’re actually doing there is comparing, not praising. You are attempting to prop people up by knocking another down. Real praise is telling someone “Your tidying up effort was amazing,”. If you want to enhance others, do not compare them. The easiest way to stop comparison praise is to eliminate superlatives, like “the best,” “the fastest,” “the smartest,” “the prettiest.”

Do you over-praise? Does this need to be avoided? The problem with many adults hoping to boost children’s self-esteem isn’t that they’re praising; it’s that they’re overpraising. Too often in today’s competitive world, we focus on children’s “greatness” defining who they are and making exaggerated statements that fail to reflect their true abilities.

According to lead researcher of the Stanford Study Prof. Carol S. Zweck, statements like, “‘You’re great, you’re amazing’ [are] not helpful, because later on, when [children] don’t get it right or don’t do it perfectly, they’ll think they aren’t so great or amazing.”

Research has shown that there are positive effects of praising children, but it depends on what kind of praise we’re dishing out. A recent Stanford Study of Toddlers showed that “praising effort, not talent, leads to greater motivation and more positive attitudes toward challenges” down the road. These findings are consistent with previous research, which has connected praise with increased motivation in children, but only when it is based on real attributes.