Toddler Tips: Encouragement

Think of a time when someone paid you a compliment or thank you that really felt good.  You probably saw yourself as a more capable, worthwhile person as a result  (and you were probably anxious to be helpful toward the source of those kind words, too!)  Now consider the many opportunities we parents have to appreciate our kids’ actions every day.  Obviously, there is a tremendous opportunity for self-esteem and co-operation here, if we learn how to make the most of it.  Here are some suggestions Traditional praise tends to evaluate or label the child without giving him much specific information.  “Good boy!”, “That’s a nice girls”, “I’m proud of you.”  She learns to work at your approval, but not necessarily at cleaning up, sharing, or whatever it was you were so happy to see.  She learns to look outside herself for approval and value.  She may feel uncomfortable about living up to the label, or unloved when she does not.

Encouragement, as opposed to praise, focuses more on the child’s specific behavior and real assets, so she can come to value herself, see herself as competent, and value kindness for its own sake.  Try to:

  • Describe:  “You drew straight lines, and some dots on your picture.”
  • Be specific:  “You put that cup right by the sink for me.”
  • Point out how her actions impacted you:  “Thanks!  That hug really cheered me up.  Now I’m smiling.”
  • Point out how her actions impacted others:  “John is happy to have a turn on the swing.”
  • Point out the consequences to her actions:  “You climbed right into your chariest.  Now we’ll have time to stop and get you a drink on the way, so you won’t be thirsty like last time!”
  • Comment on meaning to the child:  “You really enjoyed painting today.” or “It must feel good to finally climb up by yourself.”
  • Be honest:  Even a toddler knows insincerity when she hears it.  Instead of “It’s all clean”  try “Look, you’ve gotten the black spots off, and they were tricky.”
  • Find the positive to encourage:  She may not have had a great day, but “You waited in line for a drink.  That was hard.”  She may not have gone to sleep, but “You remembered to stay in your crib until naptime was over.”

Once you get past the extra effort of phrasing your encouragement, you’ll find it begins to come naturally, has powerful effects on your child, and feels great when she’s old enough to start using it with you.

by Justine Saffir