Better than a Wet Blanket! How to give effective feedback to your kids


You've probably said many of these statements yourself. If not, you've likely heard them. 

What were you thinking?
You're brother would never do that! Why can't you be more like him?
Be nice to your sister!
You're so smart!
Way to get all A's!
Quit yelling!

For the most part, they sound like pretty standard parenting phrases. So what’s the problem? While I may not go so far as to call each of these phrases “problems,” they may not represent the best in motivational feedback.  No wonder we, as parents, feel like we are repeating ourselves! Is it possible to give feedback to our children in a way that actually motivates and inspires them toward better behavior? I think so. If you want your children to be “INSPIRED” by your words, consider the following advice for giving effective feedback:

is for Individualized feedback: Every child has areas of natural strength and struggle, just like we do as parents. One of the precious tasks we have in raising children is to observe them, understand them, and encourage them according to who they are and what they need. This is one of the deepest joys of parenting – discovering the uniqueness of the little humans under our care and helping them be their best, most authentic self. Individualized feedback doesn’t compare but leaves a child feeling understood, supported, and encouraged in a positive direction. Individualized feedback says, “I’ve noticed that you get frustrated when people take your things without asking. It seems that showing respect for your belongings is important to you. I’m wondering how you could communicated that to your brother in a way that would help him understand without yelling?” (As with all example phrases, don’t forget to tailor your language to the age and maturity level of your child)

N is for NO labels: Labels are rigid statements that fail to reflect the complexity of who our children are. Labels quickly become self-fulfilling prophesies as we reinforce and point out negative traits. Instead of referring to your child as “lazy,” consider saying, “Sometimes I have noticed you work hard, but lately it seems like you have been struggling with discipline.” Have a conversation with your child and help them problem solve. “Have you been feeling less motivated lately?” “Do you have any ideas about what might help you get back on track?” “Is there a way that I can support you so that you can better realize your potential?”

Sis for Specific: While labels are general, specific feedback encourages progress. “I have noticed when you sit down to do your homework, you become easily distracted. Maybe we can practice building up your study stamina. Do you think you could study straight for 20 minutes? Why don’t we give that a try and when you are done, you can reward yourself with a _____ (stretch, brisk walk around the block, a small snack, etc).” Start small and work up to more time. As a parent, you provide the scaffolding to encourage and facilitate growth. Specific tasks enable children to clearly define a goal and, when appropriately set, to avoid becoming overwhelmed or discouraged.

Pis for Positive: Turn your feedback around by rephrasing it. Instead of declaring what you don’t want to see, communicate what you DO want to see. For example, instead of saying, “Quit yelling” direct your child to “Take a deep breath and use a calm voice to tell me what’s going on.” While negative statements tell a child what not to do, they do little by way of providing a helpful description of the desired behavior. Positive statements help to maximize learning.

I is for ‘I language:’ Sometimes, the problem is ours and it’s appropriate for us to own it. For example, if the noise is too much, try saying, “When the house is this loud, I feel frustrated because I can’t think and I would appreciate it if you would take the noisy play outside.” This fill-in-the-blank phrase is a great family tool that both parents and children can use to provide respectful feedback regarding personal needs and requests. Again, by explaining your concern, you are allowing your child to learn about their behavior and the impact it has upon others.

R is for Respect: The way you communicate to your children coveys a powerful message about what you believe about them and their abilities. Communication that comes from a personal place of exasperation or frustration can undermine your children’s confidence. When you find a way to communicate respectfully, even when you are tired or frustrated, not only do you model healthy coping, but you can communicate in a way that doesn't damage one of your child’s greatest assets, a belief in their own abilities.


Eis for Effort: Did you know that labels aren’t even very helpful when they are positive? Positive labels have been shown to discourage risk taking and innovation. In one study, children who were praised for their abilities such as for being “smart,” later chose easier tasks, perhaps so that they would continue to appear smart. Children who were praised for effort, later took on greater challenges. When thinking about how to give positive feedback to your children, rather than use labels such as “smart” or “athletic,” praise them for their effort not the outcomes. 

Dis for Democractic: As parents, we are so accustomed to solving problems that we often underestimate our children’s abilities and intervene too quickly. Inspire your children by encouraging them to identify the problem and generate solutions on their own. You will likely be surprised at what they are capable of. You may also be delighted at the increased ownership they demonstrate when it was “their idea.” Instead of jumping in and solving a sibling squabble or sending them to their room, consider sitting down together and encourage them to identify the problem and brainstorm solutions.


Now that you know a bit about constructive feedback, take a moment to review the list of phrases at the top of this article. I hope that you are “INSPIRED” to replace these lackluster phrases with powerful strategies for teaching and motivating your children!  You got this! 
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