Your encouraging words for kids can help them thrive in school and life! How do your words matter?
Positive words from parents, teachers, and mentors are a rich source of internal motivation and guidance to children and teens. Often, kids recall your words of encouragement for years to come.
At Roots of Action, we recognize the story of childhood and adolescence as an interior journey of self-discovery and growth—the basis of a fulfilling life. Using the research-based positive youth development model, The Compass Advantage, we aim to develop a child’s eight core abilities: empathy, curiosity, sociability, resilience, self-awareness, integrity, resourcefulness, and creativity.
Encouraging words for kids, when focused in these eight areas of development, help children understand themselves and how each ability drives their success. Of course, there are many positive things to say to kids, like “I believe in you,” “You are important,” and “I’m proud of you.” But imagine how much more powerful words of encouragement can be if what we said connected with a child’s sense of self and emerging identity!
Children and teenagers need to be encouraged to be themselves—to discover their own solutions to problems and their unique paths through life. You can remind them, in so many ways, how they are becoming their best selves!
When parents and teachers use the types of encouraging words and phrases that are listed above, they boost kid’s development in alleight core areas. They also improve children’s belief in themselves, an attribute that is associated with happier, healthier children and teens. Encouraging words for kids increases their internal motivation to achieve and has a positive impact on developing characteristics like perseverance, self-confidence, determination, and imagination.
Not all encouraging words for kids are created equal. So beware of the difference between encouragement and heaping praise upon children!
Some types of praise can do more harm than good. The key for parents and teachers is to think about how your encouraging words can have the most positive impact. Here are six tips to help make your words of encouragement for kids the most effective:
Children are the first to recognize when your words are not sincere. When kids believe you are praising or encouraging them to make them feel better, encourage different behavior, or protect their feelings, your words of encouragement can make them feel worse.
Praise and encouragement must be sincere and consistent.
When we share words of encouragement for kids that focus on their efforts rather than their abilities, we help children develop a growth mindset. Children who receive feedback about the effort expended in doing something learn to attribute their success to their efforts. They learn to understand that they have the ability to improve and master skills. When they fail, they are much more resilient, knowing their efforts can help them learn and grow from setbacks.
Probably the biggest error adults make in praising children is in the over-generalized way they give feedback. Comments like “good job” or “you are so smart” do nothing to help children identify how their efforts led to doing a good job! It is always better to be specific and descriptive, such as, “I appreciated the way you cooperated with your classmates. Your flexibility led to a better collaborative outcome.”
Today’s children are growing up in a world of comparisons. They compare themselves to their peers in almost everything they do, including grades, sports, and after-school activities. Sometimes, their own comparisons can motivate them to work harder, particularly if they are goal-setters.
When adults use words of encouragement to compare children to their peers, it places even more pressure on them than they already feel. Comments like, “You did so well today on the soccer field. Before you know it, you’ll be playing like Michael,” can depress rather than motivate children to learn from their efforts and develop a growth mindset.
Encouragement that uses social comparison teaches children that the end goal is winning, not learning.
Children shouldn’t receive praise or encouragement for everything they do. Research shows that overpraising is an extrinsic reward, not an intrinsic one. Overpraising decreases motivation and can result in the development of narcissistic kids.
Give words of encouragement for kids when it is unexpected, when their effort is linked to an outcome that contributes to their positive growth and development.
It’s tempting to use encouraging words for kids in an effort to control their behavior. “You did a great job on your test, but I know you can do even better!” When encouragement is given in this way, children begin to believe that your approval is contingent on their performance. Whenever encouragement comes with conditions, it becomes harmful rather than helpful to a child’s positive development.
You are invited to share the following infographic, “40 Meaningful Ways to Share Encouraging Words for Kids” on your social media, in Spanish or English! Or you may download an English PDFor Spanish PDF to print and post at home!