Preventing Problems With Descriptive Encouragement

If you tell a child he’s a pathetic, sniveling worm, he’ll either go to the garden and start eating dirt, or he’ll rebel, move to the other coast, and never speak to you again (and good for him!). If, on the other hand, you support and encourage him, he’ll do his best for you. When you’re using encouragement:

  • Keep it very specific. “I noticed you worked for an hour on your homework.” “You certainly emptied the dishwasher fast and well!” The more specific you get, the more your child will learn to figure out for herself when she is doing a good job.
  • Say it deliberately. Remind yourself to comment on positive behavior. It takes a while to make this kind of commentary second nature, so it will have to be deliberate for a while. It may even feel forced. That’s okay!
  • Effort counts. You can give descriptive encouragement for effort even if the results don’t turn out so well. “You worked very hard on your homework, Adam. I’m sure next time you will get the right answer.”
  • Focus on improvement. “Your arms have gotten much stronger from all the swimming practice you’ve been doing.”
  • Say it often.