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Developing wellbeing - Part 2

Last week, I touched on using encouragement rather than praise. Now let's look at the question which is sometimes asked — why? 

First, as teachers and parents, let's understand that encouragement focuses more on the process and less on the product. Showing children from an early age that we are interested in the way they are learning, rather than how much they are learning, or what they can do, helps them understand that learning is positive, exciting, interesting and something to be explored. 

Imagine a child (even YOUR child) building something. After looking at the finished product you say, 'That's okay' (because it is actually of fairly low quality): what message are you sending by simply judging what they have done by result alone? If you had actually watched them, made comments such as 'You’re enjoying that', 'You’re working really hard at that', or even 'That's tough, I wonder what you'll do next', the message is much more connected to the child; they know you are interested, appreciative of their efforts and the problems they have found, and are judging them on meaningful matters that they can understand. If that is then followed up by constructive criticism, then it sits comfortably in their minds that you are helping them do it better, and you recognise they have done well to get to that point. If, as in the first example, criticism is a value judgement, it sits uncomfortably and a child will feel you are criticising them, not the work.

This links to growth mindset, persistence, and the value of hard work. I could write a lot more about this — perhaps another time!

Here are some of my top tips on what parents can do:

  • Encourage rather than praise. If your son wins a race, say “running is a strength of yours, keep working at it”. (Avoid 'you are the best runner in the school')
  • Talk about the difficult feelings connected to effort and persistence. When your son finds things hard, empathise, acknowledging their experience. Talk through occasions when you found persistence hard.
  • Give regular feedback on hard work. If you emphasise the end product too much, leaving out the planning, problem-solving, and effort put in, children become too focused on outcomes and perfection, and end up valuing themselves according to whether they get things right or wrong (and look for praise to validate themselves).
  • Encourage your son to see things through. Many children don't continue with activities that would benefit them hugely because of anxiety, shyness, or frustration. Often these are bumps in the road and given time will be overcome. Simply saying 'it won't always be like this' can be enough.

More on this next week...

Matt Shroff
Director of Wellbeing

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