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Does Praise Motivate or Can it Backfire?

can praise motivate

Do you praise your child to motivate them? Are your well-meaning comments sometimes rejected? 

Don’t worry. Children – just like us – are complex creatures who can struggle with their self-worth at the best of times. 

And because schools can be a hotbed of competition and rivalry, a child’s journey through school is often a stressful one.    

In fact, you’d be amazed how many students we tutor who struggle with both success and failure. For one simple reason: self-image can be tied up in marks, scores and results. 

To be frank, it’s problematic when children rate themselves based on something that can change – a lot!

How can we use praise to encourage rather than demoralise?

Praise the Process

When you focus on just the results, it’s a lot of emotional baggage for a child or teenager to deal with. 

This sense of acute failure can be compounded by:

  • Numerical reports from school without personalised comments
  • Students being moved tables or classes even
  • Students being compared to their peers or siblings 

If you base you child’s progress on a specific test result or number – especially while still learning – it can backfire. 

That’s why praising the process makes so much sense.

When a child works really hard on something but it goes wrong, or they don’t achieve what they hoped, that activity isn’t a failure. 

By saying, ‘You’ve worked so hard on X’ or ‘That was tough, but you stuck with it,’ children learn to see mistakes as part of the process – rather than results as the be all and end all…

Failure Offers Opportunity

Young people need to learn that life is frustrating, that they’ll fail sometimes and that things won’t always go their way.

They need to know how to lose as well as how to win. 

That’s why if you keep telling your child that they are a winner or an expert, it puts them in a position of having to maintain that position to secure  acceptance.  

That’s also why gentle praise for effort works so well as it motivates, boosts creativity and allows for curve balls that arrive out of the blue. 

If a ‘failed’ exam paper (if you choose to just focus on the mark) could be reframed as an opportunity to grow/develop, self-worth needn’t be knocked.

Teachers when exam marking often only point out where students go wrong – or what’s missing – rather than what’s gone right. It’s a negative mindset that can ricochet…

Instead, think differently. Try the PAT approach to praise…

Follow PAT

Noo, not that jolly bespectacled postie on the telly.  Showing our age now! Adopt the acronym PAT.

P: Pay attention to effort

A: Appreciate small improvements 

T: Tell them specifically not generically 

Moderate praise that’s specific and based on trying – not just the result – builds challenge into learning. 

Reverse Failure … Enlist Tutor Support 

This is where working with a private tutor can make the world of difference.

Because many children hate their parents knowing how much they struggle at school, they’ll happily open up to a personal tutor. 

TA tutor can help your child break down why they’ve found a past paper hard or make sense of something that confuses without an audience. 

If gentle nurturing would help your child achieve, get in touch with our successful tutor team across Manchester and Cheshire. 

Extra Reading Over a Cuppa

Feel free to check out another popular blog on this issue: The Power Of Praise.

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