Giving Feedback About Performance
Since your child is constantly performing (from doing chores at home, to complying with rules in society, to doing classroom work at school), you have a role in monitoring your child's performance and giving a continuing stream of feedback about how he or she is doing.
As you already know, focusing on positive performance is much more productive than becoming preoccupied with the negative. Noticing and recognizing how your son or daughter continues to get up in time for school, once again has remembered to write down all assignments, and keeps doing homework without being asked, all support continuation of behaviors you want your child to practice.
The fact that today the child had a fight with another child in the lunch line over who got there first (and got sent to the office for it) should not be treated as the only indicator of how the child is doing at school. It should be discussed, but within the larger context that this was unusual conduct and not the norm. In addition, consequences imposed by the school should suffice. Outside of discussion, parents should impose no further sanctions.
Performance feedback is your tool to show your child that you notice and appreciate good performance and do not focus just on the negative.
Using Grades to Grade Your Feedback Style
Suppose your child's report card showed two A's, three B's, and one C. Which of the following would likely be your first reaction?
“I would first notice the C and want to know what's going wrong and talk about getting it fixed.”
“I would first notice the two A's and try to find out how the other grades could also be raised to A's.”
“I would notice that five of the six grades were B or above and congratulate my child for doing well.”
The child who made these grades might have a different reaction to each of these responses. To the first response, the child might declare, “You just focus on the one bad grade and don't even notice the good ones!” To the second response, the child might declare, “No matter how well I do, you're never satisfied!” And to the third response, the child might declare, “You always help me feel good about my work at school!” Which kind of response would you like your child to make?
Evaluative and Descriptive Feedback
After your child has given a speech as part of a holiday PTA program at school, do you give evaluative or descriptive feedback?
Evaluative feedback would be something like, “Good for you, you did a great job!” From this, the child knows that parents have been generally pleased for the child, but he doesn't know specifically by what. This is why you need to give descriptive feedback as well. “The way you stood up straight, squared your shoulders, talked slowly and clearly and in a loud voice really made what you had to say effective.”
When your descriptive feedback itemizes specifics, your child not only feels deeply noticed, but can also identify some of the behaviors that contributed to doing a “great job.”