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Building Motivation and Self-Esteem in Children

Child Counseling Amy Wine Counseling

Many times when we think of building a child’s self-esteem or internal motivation, it comes in the form of compliments, pats on the back, and the words, “good job.”  It is a good thing to give children praise after a job well done, but is this the best way to build an internal system of reward, satisfaction, and self-esteem?  Surprisingly, the answer is no.  External compliments and praise do not go as far as we might think.

Building Motivation

Gary Landreth, a well know child researcher and therapist, indicates that the best way to build a child’s inner self-esteem, or “inner-self”, is to give them permission to draw their own conclusions regarding their actions, behaviors, and triumphs.  When a child asks you, “How did I do?” It would be more beneficial to them for you to say, “It’s more important how you think you did, rather than what I think about it, what do you think about your performance?”  Doing this will offer the child the ability to practice the use of internal self-esteem, thus over time, creating a stronger and more structured positive internal self-esteem and internal motivation.  You are essentially saying to the child that what they think of their accomplishment outweighs anyone else’s opinion, thus boosting the importance of their own judgment above anyone else.

When you do compliment a child, Landreth states to do it in a way that praises the process, rather than then end result.  An example of this would be to offer the child encouragement on the effort that they put in, as opposed to how well the activity turned out.  An example of this would be, “I noticed that you worked so hard on putting that model air plane together, even when some of the parts didn’t seem to fit, you didn’t give up.”  The end result might not have been what the child had anticipated, but making an effort to observe how hard the child worked on the project will assist to challenge them to keep trying, even when the end result might not be a success.

As children grow older and mature, it is our job to equip them with the resources to develop both internal positive self-esteem and internal motivation.  The best way to do this is to facilitate it, rather than to take control.  It is healthy for a child to know that their own thoughts and feelings should form their opinion of themselves over any other outside voices.

Praise Vs Encouragement

Praise judges a child’s abilities and self-worth.  It tells the child what you think about his or her abilities. Praise also sends the message they are valued upon other’s positive or negative comments.  Encouragement acknowledges the child’s effort, and assists the child to develop internal motivation and value him or herself.

The dinner is delicious! (Praise) You worked hard on making this dinner just for me! (Encouragement) – See the difference?

Encouragement looks like:

*You got it!

*It looks like you worked really hard!

*You know just what you want to do!

*Wow! You know a lot about __________!

*You are proud of yourself!

“Children will become self-motivated and will not look for others’ praise and comments when they determine their own self-worth.” ~Gary Landreth

For help understanding where to start, give us a call at 832-421-8741 or email us about setting up an appointment.  We’d love to help.

Author is Michelle Wright. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor – Intern as well as a National Certified Counselor. While she enjoys working with both adults and children, her passion lies with child-centered play therapy.


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