How to Effectively Praise Your Child?

Words have an incredible ability to build people up, especially little children! While parents continually praise children whenever they do something wonderful, be it when they say their first word, master spelling a new word, or bring home a beautiful artwork from preschool, did it ever occur to you that we could go beyond, “great work!” to effectively promote positive self-esteem in preschoolers?

Words of encouragement, when used appropriately, can have powerful positive effects on children. Common phrases like “well done”, “good job” are good ways to encourage, but when used indiscriminately, they may not produce the desired increase in motivation and in fact, may be counterproductive. It is then important to choose our words wisely when praising our children!

Why Praise Children?

Affirmations Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem, Confidence, and Sense of Self

To build up positive self-esteem, we need to help children develop intrinsic motivation; the good feelings that come from within them whenever they complete a task or accomplish something. By praising children, you’re showing them how to view themselves in a positive manner and helping them recognise when they do well.

Psychologists have found that individuals with intrinsic motivation are more likely to be successful, committed, persistent, and creative. It also has several long-term advantages such as higher self-confidence, self-determination, and cognitive hardiness, all the good traits we would want to foster within our little ones!

While it is much easier to respond with a “wow, good!” or award them with tangible reinforcements such as a new toy, sticker, or candy, we can do better to help our child inculcate intrinsic motivation and hence build up their self-esteem through more meaningful words.

Affirmations enhance perseverance

Whenever your child says “I can’t do it”, words of encouragement can help them persevere on the task on hand. For instance, you could say, “you managed to climb to the top the last time you’re here, I’m sure you can do it this time too!”. This reminds your child of their success in the past and spurs them on to persist and try again!

“Correction does much but encouragement does more.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Tips on Using Affirmations to Praise Your Child

Here’s some tips on using words of encouragement for children effectively:

Be specific and descriptive

Rather than use generic phrases like, “That’s awesome!”, be specific and descriptive in your praise to direct them to the positive behaviour or action. Instead, say, “That’s great, you came out with a thoughtful answer“!

Specific and descriptive words of encouragement also signal to your child that you have been paying attention to them and that you really care! These affirmations are found to be more effective to encourage positive behaviour in children.

Praise sincerely and honestly

Exaggerated praises could harm a child. Instead of saying “you’re a genius!”, put more thought into your encouragement, “I really like the response you gave”

“Praise, like penicillin, must not be administered haphazardly. There are rules and cautions that govern the handling of potent medicines—rules about timing and dosage, cautions about possible allergic reactions. There are similar regulations about the administration of emotional medicine.”—Dr. Haim Ginott

Praise the process and effort, and not the ability

Although encouraging ability (“You’re so smart!”) provides immediate motivation, it may not work in the long run as it sends a subtle message that their achievements were a result of their abilities, rather than their effort. Instead, encourage their efforts, “I can see that you worked really hard to solve this puzzle!”

Repeat what they did

Little children enjoy telling you about your day. Sometimes, they want to be acknowledged and rather than just saying, “wow, you did a great job in school today”, you may just want to repeat to them what they told you or what they did. “Wow, you did help your classmate out by helping to find her favourite pencil today!”

Examples of Affirmations for Children

  • You worked really hard on this
  • Your effort does make a difference
  • You were so careful when you (stacked the blocks), look how tall it now is!
  • You had amazing focus while you were (picking up these little grains and putting it into the bowl).
  • That’s very thoughtful of you to (share your toy).
  • Thank you for thinking of (your sibling).
  • It’s okay, what’s more important is that you had fun! Winning is not the goal!
  • You’ve learned so much through this experience
  • You’ve done so well to not give up
  • Believe in yourself, you can do it!

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself whenever a “great work!” comes out of your mouth every once in a while! Praising mindfully and effectively is a work-in-progress. As you mindfully include various types of responses to acknowledge your child’s actions and behaviour, you’ll slowly but surely lose those generic praises! Children will then be assured that they are heard, felt, seen, and acknowledged!

At Mulberry Learning, our Habits of MindTM curriculum equips children of all ages a set of intelligent thinking dispositions for autonomous learning, critical thinking and effective inquiry. The specially curated 12 habits help children to cultivate lifelong habits and build their positive self-esteem as they navigate through challenges they face. Every month, with the help of parents, we select Habits of MindTM ambassadors to acknowledge, praise and celebrate the child’s success in displaying positive dispositions both in school and at home.

About Mulberry Learning

Established in 2006, Mulberry Learning is an award-winning Reggio-inspired preschool with 11 locations around Singapore. Mulberry Learning is the world’s first and only preschool network certified by the USA for the Habits of MindTM framework, and its curriculum has been voted as “Singapore’s Best Holistic Learning Programme” for 3 years running by leading parenting publications.

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