As parents, we are our children’s best and most important cheerleader. Over the years, though, we have received mixed messages about how best to encourage. Sometimes we are told that we need to praise and other times we are told that we are doing our children a disservice by praising everything they do. It is hard to figure out the best course of action. Here are some tried and true techniques that I have learned both as a parent and as a teacher.
- Specific praise is more beneficial than vague praise. In other words, “Your handwriting on this report is so neat and easy to read!” is more valuable to your child than hearing, “You’re so smart!” all the time. Kids can see through meaningless comments and will stop listening to you. However, give them an acknowledgment of something concrete and they are more likely to repeat the behavior.
- Praising the effort rather than the result can encourage children to try even when things are hard. When they struggle to get an answer, you can say, “I am so proud of the way you worked through that math problem!” This is acceptable whether they come up with the right answer or not.If you see that they are putting in hard work, you can acknowledge it. This will encourage them to continue to try. Kids who struggle but feel supported are much more likely to figure it out than those who develop the habit of giving up when they don’t know something immediately offhand. If your child feels that your approval is tied solely to their grades or performance, they may feel even worse when they receive a low mark or don’t perform well on something. When you find something positive in their work, they will feel supported no matter how they do. That doesn’t mean I am telling you to applaud a failing grade. But you can point out that they followed the steps correctly and just came up with the wrong calculation. Or you can offer to help them study for the next test, reminding them that hard work can help them get where they want to be.
- Provide opportunities for success. If they are having problems with a complex problem, help them break it down into manageable pieces. If they have trouble with time management, set timers for them so that they learn to focus on the task at hand and don’t get overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. If their problem is that they get stuck on a problem on a test and then cannot get the whole thing completed, show them test taking techniques: how to find the answer within the information provided in the test, how to read the questions so that they understand exactly what is required, how to skip over questions they are unsure of and go back to them if they have time at the end. Work with them on homework that they might need help on but try to let them come up with the strategies and answers on their own—be more of a map when they get lost than the tour guide blazing the trail.
Everyone loves to receive praise. When you praise your child, you can brighten their day, encourage and acknowledge their hard work, and provide them with confidence and determination. Follow these tips and you will be headed in the right direction. Thanks for reading!