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SEL Series – The Truth About Praise

Many of my students love the show “Avatar: The Last Airbender” as much as I do! There’s a particular episode that truly stands out as a favorite of mine and it’s the episode where the main character and protagonist, Aang, is learning to Earth-bend: a technique that will allow him to have control over earthly materials such as the ground and rock. Given than Aang is an Air-bender, Earth-bending presents itself as an especially difficult challenge for him! When his friend and Earth-bending guru harshly critiques him- Aang’s performance continues to worsen. By the end of the episode Aang’s guru has a realization that Aang responds better to positive reinforcement and begins to encourage him; ultimately Aang is able to master earth bending—and saves his friends while he’s at it.

Like Aang, many of us are apt to forming positive behaviors and habits when we receive positive recognition and encouragement. Thus, its important to understand that praise makes people feel welcomed and accepted. 

More importantly, giving children positive encourage is crucial for building children’s social awareness and personal awareness. Encouragement can also teach kids the value of effort; to be resilient through tough times. This blog post intends to help afterschool educators with a guide on how to encourage their students appropriately. 

Use these Do’s and Don’ts as a guide for positive encouragement: 

Don’t say: “You’re a good girl or boy!” (Positive Praise) Instead, state what you have observed.

Say: (Positive Encouragement) “I like how you shared the crayons with your friend, that was very nice of you. 

Don’t say:  (Positive Praise) “You’re so smart!” Research has shown that people have a capacity for having several forms of intelligence.

Say:  (Positive Encouragement) “You prepared by practicing your vocabulary words and it worked, excellent job!”

Don’t say:  (Positive Praise) “You’re such an amazing Tennis Player.” When children are learning how to play a sport, they may be very athletic, but there still may be aspects of the game they will need to improve. If the child believes that they are a great tennis player, what will motivate them to grow?

Say:  (Positive Encouragement) “It looks like you enjoy tennis and the time you’ve spent practicing has helped you improve!”

So the way to positive “praise” is through encouraging the effort, that way children will learn that it is the struggle that makes them ultimately successful.


Tiana Brown is the Assistant Director of the Norwalk Housing Authority Learning Centers


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