Motivating our youngsters to study, learn and achieve is something we all do whether we’re parents, teachers, home educators, or however we’re related to kids. And there are as diverse a range of approaches to that as there are personalities.

Some people believe that motivating people, particularly to confront the things they’d less rather do, is best achieved through assertive prompting, criticism perhaps, and other tough approaches. But these tend focus on negative incentives, like threat or shame if certain goals are not achieved for example.

Others believe that praise and encouragement is much more effective. That it induces a more positive atmosphere surrounding learning and achieving which naturally perpetuates it. Most of us are far more likely to be motivated by positive vibes about our attempts than ones that make us feel small.

Generally speaking youngsters are more likely to learn and progress, even through tougher challenges, if they feel good about themselves, confident, relatively happy and have a sense of worth about what they’re doing. This state is rarely achieved if students are continually facing harsh criticism, sarcasm and put-downs.

If we observe what we do as facilitators objectively we might find that any negative approach we’re using to push learners on is more the result of our own moods and personal feelings at the time, than the reality of what the learner needs. If we can put these feelings aside we can use praise as a tool to encourage and propel our learners forward more effectively.

There are some interesting ideas on effective and non-effective use of praise in this article from the ‘Kids Matter’ website.

And teacher Jamie Thom shares what he’s learnt through his mistakes in this article here and identifies what worked well for his learners. He believes that personalisation is an important aspect.

Reading round various reports it seems that to use praise as a motivational tool to help our learners we might consider that:

  • For praise to be effective it has to be balanced, genuine, and in tune with the learner’s abilities and the task, prioritising whatever needs to be accomplished.
  • Heaping ‘well done’, ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘you’re a star’ on someone every time they do something will soon feel somewhat shallow. Instead, whatever we say in terms of encouragement needs to be real, relevant and specific. So an often trotted out generalisation will eventually fail to be effective, even if we use those at times.
  • Also comparisons with others can be helpful as examples to aim for, but are not helpful if used to point out the learner’s failure to achieve the same standard.
  • The point of praise is to motivate and encourage so progress can be made. If that’s not the outcome, then it’s best to re-evaluate the way it’s being used.
  • So praise needs to be empathetic to the personal challenges each individual faces in their task, irrespective of what others are doing. This might be to do with effort, personal accomplishment in the light of what they’ve achieved before, or what they’ve overcome, rather than the actual outcome or end product.


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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.