Managing expectations and achievement levels

Praise and encouraging words can reinforce positive behaviour. When used consistently.

“Well done”, “Good job” or “You’re so smart” are common praises used by parents, family, friends, nursery and leaders to motivate a child to achieve high standards. Using these encouraging words does not however work as effectively as identifying (as above) what precisely the child is being praised for.

Praise can improve a child’s self-esteem and can increase intrinsic motivation (their ability to motivate themselves). Praise and encouragement need to be used with meaning and sincerity: if used indiscriminately, some types of encouragement can be perceived as false/ inauthentic and children will not believe them.

Here are some things to think about when you encourage and praise children in your sessions:

Praise sincerely and honestly – avoid insincere or meaningless praise to boost a child’s self-esteem, increase their motivation, encourage certain behaviour, or to try and protect them from hurtful feelings. If the words are not perceived as sincere and honest, a child may question or doubt them, even from an early age.

Insincere praise is not only ineffective but may also be harmful, Children who have low self-esteem are often alert to this type of response from adults and it can reinforce their negative self-perceptions.

Don’t say – “You were so amazing at that!” The child thinks, “I only did it once out of lots of goes! I’m rubbish at this.
Do say – “I saw how hard you tried to catch the ball”.

Give specific and descriptive praise – Try to point out a specific aspect of the child’s performance and describe what performance or behaviour led to good results. The child will pick up on the fact that you have paid attention and that you care about how they perform or behave.

Don’t say – “That’s brilliant!”
Do say – “I like the way you jumped with both feet together!”

Avoid comparison praise – when you compare one child with another child/sibling’s performance. This may motivate them to try harder, but it can also have the opposite effect. Children who are praised by comparison to others don’t stop comparing when they fail. Instead, they lose motivation faster and when they face difficulties. They may demonstrate more negative emotion, frustration and helplessness than a child who is primarily praised for their mastery of the task. They tend to be less resilient.

Comparison praise teaches a child that winning, not learning, is the goal. This winning-oriented attitude reduces intrinsic motivation, affecting their desire to learn or to overcome failure. These children will try to prevent failure by avoiding challenges and learning new skills that are in circumstances where they anticipate failure and disappointment.

Don’t say – “You are really good, just like your brother!”
Do say – “Good hopping Luca! You really tried hard to keep going!’’

Praise their effort and the process, not ability – when children are praised for their effort, they learn to attribute the success to their effort. Effort is a quality that we all have the power to control or improve through hard work and practice. Children who are praised on their effort will focus more on developing skills more than on pursuing just the results.

Encouraging mastery helps a child adopt and grow a mindset that believes in practising and improving skills. This learning mindset can increase children’s intrinsic motivation, persistence and enjoyment. When they fail, these children believe that they have failed because they have not tried hard enough (or smart enough) and this can then demotivate them to try again to improve their performance. In other words, you can help children to develop resilience and the ability to bounce back faster by how you motivate them and reward their efforts.

If you praise children for their ability alone: ‘You’re so good at hopping.’, they may be less capable of dealing with situations where they encounter difficulties. By placing your focus on developing your role as a coach, you can support a young learner’s abilities to respond with enthusiasm to authentic motivation and praise for their efforts.

To avoid those potential pitfalls leaders can praise the process, which is another type of encouragement related to effort. The process includes not only effort but also other qualities such as strategies, thoughtfulness, concentration, self-corrections, etc.

Don’t say – “What a smart girl!”
Do say – “I can see that you worked very hard on building that tower”.

Avoid controlling and conditional praise – Controlling praise is different from positive informational feedback used to affirm a child’s progress, improvement, or task mastery. It is given with the intent to manipulate or control. A statement such as “Great! I know you can do better” is intended to motivate the child to try harder next time.

Don’t say – ‘Great! I know you can do better’.
Do Say – ‘Great Helena! You crawled like a tiger!’

Children as young as two develop a sense of self-worth, that can be negative or positive in terms of what they expect from themselves and others. Your role as a significant adult is so important in building resilient young learners who will be able to transfer into more formal learning with firm foundations in the social, emotional and physical domains of their profiles.

Contingent self-esteem (CSE) is self-esteem based on the approval of others or social comparisons. Certain events will shape one’s self-esteem when the individual bases their self-worth on the outcome of those events. The success or failure of any situation can result in fluctuations in an individual’s self-esteem.

Don’t say – “I’m sure you will want to do better next time”
Do say – Good job Daisy!! You’re doing so well at catching the ball.”

Supporting and encouraging all children to participate in a physical activity session.

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