The power of authentic positive reinforcement

A mum and dad clapping as their daughter completes a puzzle
General 4-18 years

If you want to help your child become a confident and motivated learner (and who doesn’t?), master the art of giving specific and constructive feedback. You might like to use these tips and examples as a guide.

Say it now

Feedback is most powerful when it’s in the moment, so don’t wait until your child gets an assignment back from the teacher; praise them while they’re working on it. For example:

‘You made lots of progress on your essay today, good on you.’

‘Well done for finishing your project ahead of time. That’s a great habit to have.’

Be specific

Vague praise, such as ‘You’re so smart’, quickly loses impact. Describe exactly what your child did that you liked, and they’re more likely to do it again. For example:

‘You worked for 20 minutes straight on your spelling words, that’s impressive!’

‘I like the way you started your homework tonight without me reminding you.’

Praise effort

By noticing their efforts, you will encourage your child to keep trying hard in the future. For example:

‘You worked really hard to learn those new words.’

‘I heard your music practise today—you were really focused!’

Appreciate your child’s strengths

Most of us—child or adult—already know what we’re not good at. Help your child recognise the things they are good at. For example:

‘I’m always so impressed by your creativity. You really make your projects look great!’

‘I was watching you playing soccer with your friend today. You’re getting very good at controlling the ball, aren’t you?’

Praise more than criticise

It’s human nature to hear criticisms louder than praise. So keep the balance heavily in favour of the positive and look for ways to praise the progress that your child has made, rather than criticising what they still need to do. For example:

‘You’ve been much more organised with your homework this week, that’s great to see.’

‘Your teacher tells me you’re being much more attentive in class. I’m proud of you for focusing more.’

Notice the little things

Praising small changes and successes helps to motivate your child to continue their efforts. For example:

‘Wow, you read 20 pages tonight. Well done!’

‘I’ve noticed you’re being much more responsible around the house. Thanks!’

Surprise your child

A surprise celebration can really show your child how much you value their efforts. Small and simple rewards are perfect. For example:

‘You’ve been working so hard on your science assignment all week, why don’t I treat you to an ice-cream on the way home?’

For more detailed tips and ideas, check out this resource.

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