The Art of Thoughtful Feedback to Kids

Often when our kids come to us with a new painting or a new Lego bridge that they have made and we go “Wow, that’s beautiful!”. Sometimes, we add the extra – “I love these colours” or a “I love this cat you have drawn.” Well, I do this all the time.

The other day, the kids called me to their play room to show me something – they had converted the room into a school with all their soft toys as students. This school had a lunch area, library, washrooms and every other detail that they could remember from their own school. Immediately, I said “Wow! That’s amazing”. As I was looking around at the room (and to be honest, thinking how much time I would have to spend to clean the mess up), my 4-year-old asked, “Is that all you have to say? We put in so much effort.”

As expected, this triggered my ‘mommy guilt’. My first thought was I have managed corporate teams and have gone through several HR mandated ‘Feedback Sessions’, I can certainly do better in terms of giving feedback to my own kids. But here was the problem – how do you give feedback to children? Unlike the corporate world, you are not measuring their achievements against pre-set goals. So how do you praise a stick figure drawing or a 10 colour rainbow? 

Research shows that giving feedback, especially acknowledging your child’s efforts, is important in building their confidence and in making them comfortable with trying new things. This is what experts call ‘Growth Mindset’.  

So, here are some helpful tips on giving feedback that focuses on efforts of the children and encourages them to try new things:

1.      Evaluate effort rather than the outcome. “I can see how hard you worked on this bridge” or “Wow! You coloured the whole picture and there are no peek-a-boos” helps children appreciate their own work, rather than doing a task just to get approval from a grown-up. This simple thought process significantly impacts how a child sees new tasks that are required from them.

2.      Praise their determination, progress or thought process while completing a task. “I noticed how you were able to focus for a much longer time” or “It’s amazing how you did it all by yourself”- goes a long way in boosting a child’s confidence.

3.      Ask questions. It not only shows them that you are interested in their work (what grown-ups call ‘positive attention’), it also encourages them to formulate their thoughts into words – a skill which would come extremely handy when they have to present an idea. “How did you decide what to make?”, “How did you pick the colors?”, “How did you get that idea?” are always helpful questions to ask.

4.      Acknowledge feelings. Remember that movie, Inside Out. It shows how our brain tends to store every moment of our life based on how we feel in that moment – so our feelings triumph over the words being spoken. As grown ups when we make a mistake, sometimes all we remember is the feeling of not being able to complete something. It applies equally to children. As parents, its our job to ensure that our feedback encourages them to focus on positive feelings associate with effort. For instance, “That’s a very hard Jungle Gym. You tried to cross it all my yourself. You must be so proud.”

5.      While giving constructive negative feedback do try and balance it with some positive feedback about the effort that was put by the child and focus on the future i.e. what can be done to make things better next time rather than on what has gone wrong. The purpose of feedback is to encourage kids to focus on future.

And last thing – our kids are not the only ones who are learning new things, we are learning too!

Parenting in this day and age is not easy. We expect a lot from our kids and similarly, expectations from parents is also very high. Remember to feel proud about your willingness to learn, remember to celebrate each new learning and make these celebrations a part of your family rituals. We are all super-parents who want the best for our kids.

Tell me what are you encouraging kids to try out this week?


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