Worth & Effort:
Encouraging A Child’s Success the Right Way
Rewarding a child’s efforts helps build motivation. We need to help children become self-motivated by using rewards and acknowledgement to build a child’s confidence… without sabotaging their self-worth.
Our job as parents and educators is to focus on praising the child’s effective behavior, not their worth or value as a person.
This might seem obvious, right? Yet we live in a world where our worth is tied to external things like appearance, our work, or our talent. As a result, we adults have a tendency to let this attitude overflow onto children even when we don’t mean to.
Acknowledging achievements is all about helping the child see that they are capable. Encouragement and motivation are not about being “good” or “bad” at something; they’re about effort and capability. Being “bad” at something usually suggests an unchangeable fact about the child.
Work is good or bad, but never the child—and work can always improve with effort.
By helping a child understand this distinction, we not only encourage them to become self-motivated, but also build resilience against failures becoming personal.
And make no mistake—kids will fail. This is part of learning.
But if a child understands that failing at a task does not make them “bad” at it, nor make them a failure, they will be much more likely to try again and overcome adversity.
By being specific about what is being rewarded and by focus on the child’s effort (not just the outcome) we can teach kids to separate their worth from their success or skill. The key is to link success with effort, not some inherent ability.
For example: “you’re a great writer, Katie!” seems on the surface like meaningful encouragement, but telling Katie she is a great writer implies A) her writing ability is tied to who she is and B) that who she is, not what she does, is being evaluated.
So how do we encourage Katie’s writing efforts?
Something like, “you worked really hard on that paper, and it turned out great!”
Even better, focus on specific aspects of her effort that have turned out well: “your paragraphs flow really well,” is more rewarding to hear than just “good job on your paper.”
Instead of comparing children to another—“look at Katie’s paragraphs next to yours, Jenna,” compare a child’s work to their own past work. “Jenna, this story is even better than your last one, but your previous story had better paragraphs.”
This distinction might seem trivial or even nit-picky, but these messages add up very quickly.
Think about how performance-focused we are as adults, how easily a failure—big or small— can disrupt our confidence. Where do you think we learned that? Most of us didn’t grow up hearing the words “if you aren’t good at this thing, you’re a failure!”
And yet, we seemed to have learned this message nonetheless.
Let’s help change the way our society sees success and failure by teaching the next generation that their worth and their success are never, ever connected.
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Check out AcadeMap’s customizable Certificate Builder!
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