I believe one of the most beneficial things I learned while teaching at a Montessori school was the art of encouraging students and the most effective way to do so. As a parent or teacher we have a very important role in the lives our children. A role that includes encouraging them in a manner that helps them develop a healthy sense of self-efficacy. It is so easy when we see a child do something well to say, “good job” or “I’m proud of you.” However, there are so many other things we can say that can be much more meaningful and have a lasting impression on a child’s mind for years to come. Encouraging a child is vital to his or her development. There is a big difference between praising a child and encouraging a child. Praising sounds like, “I like…” or I’m so proud of you for doing…” and encouragement is non-judgmental. For example, “I’m sure you are really proud that you finished all your math” or “you worked really hard!”
Though done with well intentions, often times we praise as an automatic reaction… meaning we are not necessarily giving much thought into what we are saying and how it is being received. Encouragement causes us to think deeper as to why we are saying what we are saying. Here is an example of praising in action: While teaching, you praise a child by telling them “Wow, you got a really good grade on that test”. In that same situation, encouragement in action would look like “I can tell that you really studied on that test, you must feel really proud of yourself.” This encourages the child allowing them to not only see the effort in their work but also allowing them to become more independent in their future schoolwork. We want the child to feel that their work and perseverance of getting to the final product is just as important as the final product itself (if not more). These are life lessons that will continue to follow the child throughout their entire lives.
Implementing this type of encouragement takes extra work, as well as a change in mindset and vocabulary. Often we have heard praise throughout our lives, and it is what we have then practiced for many years. Our goal as educators and parents is to create independent children who foster a love for learning, and the way we encourage can really enhance this experience. I know that, for me, it still takes thought when I am encouraging a child. I need to intentionally check the way that I am speaking to them and make sure that I am truly encouraging the child and not praising them. Encouragement is something that can be used with children of all ages. Every child needs to feel that they are valued above the work that they are producing. This is something that takes a lot of practice and continual adjustment of a mindset.
I have found a really nice outline of what it means to really encourage a child on Bright Horizons website:
• Recognizes and fosters continual growth and effort.
• Does not cause children to compare their achievements, or compete about who is smarter, prettier, faster, etc.
• Fosters independence – children gain a sense that their own abilities can get them what they need and want.
• Emphasizes effort, progress, and improvement rather than just results.
• Recognizes contribution rather than completion or quality over quantity.
• Promotes perseverance rather than giving up if a child doesn’t initially achieve the success he expected.
• Allows children to learn about, rather than measure, themselves.
• Prepares children for real-world challenges where they will be expected to do much more than show up to earn recognition.
• Doesn’t build false self-esteem (i.e. “I am so smart. I can do anything”) but instead builds determination and confidence (i.e. “I have the ability to do many things if I work hard”).
• Does not do for children what they can do for themselves.
These points above are such a great reminder on how to truly help to create an independent and hard working child who loves to learn! So I challenge you this week, whether you’re a homeschool parent or a teacher in a classroom, trade in praise for encouragement! You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.