One of my struggles with being a parent is trying to get information out of my children. “How was your day?” Good. “Why didn’t you like your dinner?” Because I didn’t. “Why did you hit your sister?” No response. Each one of these non-answers is usually followed by a line of questioning that makes me feel like a prosecutor cross-examining a defendant, until I can get a morsel of information I can understand and react to.
The frustration parents experience in moments like this is because this kind of feedback doesn’t give us enough to go on. As the education program specialist, Virginia Ressa, says “feedback is most effective when it is specific, timely, accurate and actionable. If any one of these attributes is missing, feedback can be confusing and may not result in moving learning forward.” (1) Without each one of those things, we won’t know how to respond best to our kids.
The same is true in reverse. If the feedback we give to our kids on their behavior isn’t specific, timely, accurate and actionable, they won’t know how to respond to us and may experience the same kind of frustration that we feel. A simple “good job” won’t do. Kids need to know why they did a good job, immediately after the behavior, and with direction they can understand and repeat. For example, if I ask one of my kids to do a chore, she needs to know details of what I want done. The job may be to keep her room clean, but if I don’t specify what that means, she may think she did a good job because she put her toys away even though she left her clothes on the floor and her bed unmade. But if I tell her that keeping her room clean means all three of those things, she can understand what needs to be done and take action to do it. If she cleans the room, I then need to be specific about what I like. Maybe the “good job” was that my daughter cleaned her room, but the specific feedback is: “You put your clothes in the right drawer, the toys are put away, and your bed is made. Great job!” I need to praise her for that good job right after she’s done it, while the behavior is fresh in her mind, not a day later. And if there are some things she could have done better, I have to make that clear and detailed as well.
By being more specific, you let your kids know exactly what they are doing well and you increase the chance that they will repeat that behavior again. It also has the added benefit, for any younger sibling ears that may be listening, of identifying the specific positive behaviors they might imitate. And that just may make your job a bit easier down the road.
As for getting kids to give us more specific feedback, that is for another blog. (Although just modeling specific feedback will help our kids begin to catch on.)
A Few Examples:
Meal time: “Sammy, you did a great job eating your vegetables tonight. It makes me feel happy when you eat healthy so you can grow big and strong.”
Leaving the house: “Ella, great job putting your shoes and coat on after the first time I asked. It really helps us get to school on time.”
Grocery store: “Jake, excellent job sitting nicely in the grocery cart. You were very patient. That is a HUGE help to Mommy so we can get our food quickly and get home to play.”
(1) Virginia Ressa, an education program specialist.
Blog/October-2016/Reflecting- on-Our- Practice-The- Importance-of- Effec