Encouragement: Going Beyond “Good Job!”

As adults, we have the unique opportunity to shape the way in which children view themselves by offering encouragement. The manner in which encouragement is delivered will have a profound impact on how a child views his or her accomplishments and place within society. If we give encouragement in the form of judgements (“Good job!”, “You are so good!”), we are creating a divide between those who are “good” and those who sense that they are “less than.” Another aspect of general, evaluative praise is that children soon learn that when they do well in school or perform helpful acts, they please others. This robs them of the intrinsic benefits that come with being a contributing member of society.

Think about the ways that you may have received encouragement as a child, or even in the present day. Did you receive praise when you scored a goal in soccer or after receiving an A on a book report? What did that sound like? Many adults can tell you that they may have heard, “good job,” and they may have received a sticker or prize for their efforts. Now recall a time when you made an unsafe choice, and how the adults in your life responded to you. Typically, the feedback we would have received would have highlighted how our poor choice affected others (“You have done nothing but whine all day. You have ruined your brother’s birthday for everyone.”) Many of us were raised with an evaluative, two-second response when we were successful, but received a stern lecture that could last for several minutes when we made poor choices or needed help from an adult! If we spend more time noticing a child’s successes and efforts, not only are we more likely to see more of those behaviors, we are instilling why that child’s successes and efforts contribute to their families, friends, and communities.

Authentic encouragement requires that we be present in the moment and notice the child’s efforts with specific language which describes what the child did. A very basic formula to use is as follows:

  • You  (describe exactly what you see.)
  • Example: “You got your jacket off of the hook and put it on!”

To foster and nurture helpful acts:

  • You  so                                                          . That was helpful/kind.
  • Example: “You helped your sister pick up her crayons so we could keep the floor safe. That was helpful!”

For the children who need encouragement when they are “stuck” or have made a poor decision:

  • “You almost have all of the Legos back in the bin. Two more and you are done!”
  • “Oops! Your books go on the bookshelf. Which one will you pick up first?”
  • “Remember, you can get your sister’s attention by saying her name, and touching her arm gently.”

Consider starting your journey with specific encouragement by eliminating, “good job” and replacing it with the basic formula for noticing children’s actions. Doing so will help children rely upon their own innate gifts rather than seeking the approval of others. Concurrently eliminating extrinsic rewards during this process also shifts the focus to children’s natural need to be contributing members of our communities. Last but certainly not least, remember to encourage when children perhaps need it the most! Children who are in need of an adult or peer who voices their belief in them are more apt to be successful, and will offer encouragement to someone else in need. May your Christmas be filled with the gift of encouraging words.






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