Giving praise is simple.

Most people have vocabs full of clichés – Great stuff! Good work! Way to go! – that they can use without a thought.

That’s the problem. We don’t take the time and effort to turn praise into meaningful feedback.

Worse still, this type of knee-jerk, meaningless praise makes children dependent on adults for approval. It leads to perfectionism and low risk-taking.

So how do we give kids praise that’s positively impactful, esteem-building, and capable of establishing positive habits?

Researchers from the Universities of Florida and Columbia found that students who were praise for their efforts over their results showed more interest in their learning, more enjoyment, and better overall results.

So, let’s scale back off-hand praising and provide more impactful feedback.

Here are five keys to make sure your feedback hits the mark with students.


1. Make it specific

Kids don’t need to be told ‘good job’ when they’ve done something well. It’s self-evident. Success is its own reward.

They do need to be told why they’ve done something well so they can replicate those behaviours in the future.

Rather than “Good job doing your homework” try “You did your homework first thing when you came home from school when you were fresh. That’s a smart strategy.”


2. Focus on the process, rather than the outcome

Comment on the result and you may end up praising kids for breathing. The bar will be low.

Focus on the processes of learning such as effort, enjoyment, contribution and improvement and the results will take care of themselves.

Rather than “Great marks in that test” try “I see you worked hard to get good results. That works really paid off.”


3. Avoid praising kids for things they can’t control

Kids can’t control intelligence, talent, attractiveness, and physical abilities.

A child maybe top of the class now because of their innate talent but they may not be in the future because other students will work harder. Give meaningful feedback about effort, generosity, character, and attitude, which kids can control.

Rather than “You are so smart at math” try “If you keep working hard like you do there won’t many math problems you can’t solve.”


4. Tell them what you see

Tell it like it is.

If you see a student clean away their mess without being told a simple, evaluation-free statement such as “You cleaned this mess up on your own” tells them that you have noticed.

You take pride in their own behaviour.

Rather than “You shared your lunch with a friend. How good is that!” try “I see you are sharing your lunches with others at school.”


5. Invite self-evaluation

Allow children to decide for themselves how they feel about their accomplishments so they can internalise what they’ve achieved.

Ask “How do you feel about that?” “Why did you choose to do that?”

Rather than “That’s a fantastic building you’ve constructed” try “What do you think about it? What’s the best part.”

Giving praise to kids can be contentious. How much is too much and how best should we give praise?

Best to wind back the automatic comments, and think about what you should say and whether feedback is really needed.

Some children need to hear more positives than others so consider the child, their frame of mind and the context in which you respond.

Above all, make it meaningful rather than mindless and it should have the desired effect.


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