Words of encouragement for kids | what works and what to avoid!
How to use words of encouragement for kids to encourage growth and enthusiasm
Most kids (and adults) love praise but can you have too much of a good thing?
“Wow! That’s awesome!”
Feels good doesn’t it?
To be clear from the start, I’m all for positive motivation.
But (why is there always a but!?🙄) excessive and constant praise can actually be damaging to self esteem and personal achievement.
Research shows that children who were rewarded for every day tasks tended to lose interest in the activity as soon as the praise stopped.
They lost all self-motivation and were no longer satisfied with the intrinsic reward of actually enjoying the activity.
Instead they sought satisfaction from another extrinsic source e.g. the praise of an adult.
So, if we get too used to receiving praise it can make tasks feel pretty pointless when we don’t get praised.
Types of praise that should be avoided…
Praising ‘normal’/ expected behavior
When we praise a child for doing something that is ‘normal’ or a behavior that is expected of them we’re subconsciously telling them that the opposite is actually the normal thing to do.
To give an example. If a parent praises an older sibling “Well done for not hitting your little brother”.
What the parent is inadvertently saying is “I fully expected you to smack you’re brother over the head”.
If the parent instead said something like “I noticed how you sorted that problem out earlier with your brother. Great problem solving skills!”
We’re still acknowledging the positive but we’re not making the lack of hitting sound extraordinary.
Stanford Psychology Professor Carol S. Dweck who has done a lot of research regarding growth mindset for kids insists that it is better to praise the effort rather than the action.
So, “You’ve worked so hard on that” rather than “You are so awesome at that!”
“What we found was that the greater proportion of process praise, the more likely the child was to have a mindset five years later that welcomed challenges and that represented traits as malleable, not a label you were stuck with,” Dweck.
Empty praise like ‘You’re great!’ can backfire and actually cause us to believe that when we get something wrong or not perfect that we’re no longer great anymore.
Praise that adds pressure
“He always does so well in exams.”
“She’s always been really great at Maths. A total natural.”
When the praise is delivered in a way that makes us feel as if succeeding comes easily to us it can start to feel more like pressure than the praise it was intended to be.
The use of the word “always” makes the receiver feel that there is an expectation to succeed and that failure will be frowned upon.
Success is down to hard-work not pure talent so make that distinction clear.
So, praising kids is bad?
Of course it’s not, we just have to be a little mindful about what we’re saying.
It feels so natural to say “Wow, that’s great…what is it?” as you walk past your child scribbling something on some paper.
However, just because it feels natural doesn’t mean that it actually is.
We praise like that because we were praised like that. At home and in school.
Many of us were raised in an “Ignore the bad. Praise the good” environment.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t need to ignore meltdowns or praise a child for licking a piece of broccoli!
It does take a little effort to praise ‘correctly’ at first but once you tune into it I’m sure you’ll notice the mundane things we praise our kids for…our words become meaningless.
The type of praise children receive is important if we want to help them to develop a growth mindset and understand that their abilities and behavior can change over time given effort.
Great words of encouragement for kids
So, what can I say to my kids to avoid screwing them up for life?
I know it can feel like we’re always being told what not to say or do to our kids if we want them to grow up to be happy, resilient and successful adults.
Thankfully, we don’t have to get this right 100% of the time! We don’t need to be perfect…good enough is good enough.
Choosing the right words of encouragement for kids can be a little daunting…especially in light of the research I mention above.
So, I’ve put together a few of my favorite words of encouragement for children as I think it always helps to have some examples:
Words of encouragement for kids who show empathy and other social skills
- What you did was very kind.
- You were very gentle with your little sister.
- Thank you for being so generous.
- What you did was very thoughtful.
- You managed to see things from his point of view.
- I’m so proud of how you checked that boy was OK in the park.
- I appreciate you helping me out back there. We make a good team.
- Thank you for using your words to let me know how you feel.
- I really appreciate what a good listener you are.
- Thank you for listening to my point of view.
- Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me so clearly.
- Thank you for respecting my thinking.
- You’re a good friend to her because you…
- Thanks for helping me with this. It’s so much faster and more fun when we work together.
Words of encouragement for kids who show curiosity and enthusiasm
- I love how you excited you are to participate.
- You’re asking some really thought provoking questions.
- You’re determination to learn that really shows.
- You put so much effort into learning that new skill.
- Let’s write all these great questions down so we don’t forget them.
- Great question! Why don’t we look up the answer together.
- I’d love to explore that question with you later.
Words of encouragement for kids to encourage a growth mindset and build resilience
- You overcame that challenge so well.
- Your hard working is showing.
- I can see that those early mistakes really helped you to work this out.
- Your determination helped you to solve that problem.
- I can see how determined you are to do this.
- I love how confident you are in your ability to succeed.
- You’ve got this!
- It’s so great to see that you believe in yourself.
- You achieved your goal with a lot of hard work.
- Let’s look at this problem together.
- Do you feel proud of yourself for persevering?
Words of encouragement for kids who show creativity and fun!
- You have a great imagination.
- I love your sense of humor!
- That is such a creative idea.
- It’s lovely to watch you enjoying yourself.
- I love seeing you play with your friends.
- You look so excited about _____
- I love the colours you chose for your painting.
- It’s great to see you enjoying the outdoors.
Tips for praising kids
- Be genuine. Kids will notice if we’re only half listening.
- Focus on the effort your child is putting into a task rather than how well you think they’re doing.
- Avoid over praising.
- Be specif about what a child is doing. Avoid “good girl” or “great job” and use “I love how colorful it is” instead.
This is about making a connection with your child more than it’s about getting the words 100% right.
What are you’re favorite words of encouragement for kids?