Effective praise takes practice, but the effort is worthwhile for our children. Knowing how to praise can be challenging if all you heard was “good job” or constant criticism from your own parents and teachers. Since we’re trying to raise bilingual kids, we want to give better feedback in both Chinese and English.
In traditional Asian culture, ability-based comments are the norm. My daughter’s former piano teacher would start each lesson with: “Let’s see if your smart today! 让我们看看你今天聪明不聪明 / 讓我們看看你今天聰明不聰明。” At the end of class, she would tell me: “Today, she was smart and learned quickly. 今天她很聪明，学得很快。/ 今天她很聰明，學得很快。”
On the other hand, I have been guilty of showering my kids with excessive amounts of “Good Job”. While I’ve been trained to provide constructive feedback in work settings, I didn’t realize I was mindlessly praising my kids until I watched videos of our interactions.
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While I was able to quickly learn how to give timely and useful praise to my children in English, I needed help for Chinese translations since I’m still learning this language. I’ll share encouraging bilingual phrases that we try to use everyday, and I hope this can help your family and school! Free printables included at the end of this post.
Positive parenting resources:
- Natural Ways to Improve Communication Skills Through Play
- 7 Tips for Tackling Big Challenges Like Bilingual Parenting
Types of praise and their benefits
The educational non-profit, Understood, categorizes 3 common types of praise as:
- Personal praise
- Effort-based praise
- Behavior-specific praise
Of the above, experts recommend focusing on effort and behavior rather than personal skills. Before dishing out compliments to our kids, we should consider the goals we hope to achieve with our words. Research shows that praise has the power to:
- Foster positive relationships
- Boost confidence
- Encourage self-reflection
- Reinforce desired behavior
- Improve academic performance
- Help overcome challenges
Personal praise: What’s wrong with “You’re so smart 你很聪明 / 你很聰明”?
Scientific American reports: “More than 3 decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.”
The American Psychological Association agrees that heavy focus on intelligence can have “serious negative consequences for learning.” Examples of such comments include:
- Ability-based praise
- You’re so smart. 你很聪明 / 你很聰明。(Nǐ hěn cōngmíng.)
- This homework is easy for you. 这些作业对你来说很容易 / 這些作業對您來說很容易。(Zhèxiē zuòyè duì ní lái shuō hěn róngyì.)
- Excessive compliments
- Wow. You are truly amazing! 哇。你真的是非常了不起! (Wa. Nǐ zhēn de shì fēicháng liǎobùqǐ!)
- You are a genius. 你是个天才 / 你是個天才。(Nǐ shìgè tiāncái.)
- Comparison with others:
- You’re the smartest student in the class! 你是班上最聪明的学生！ 你是班上最聰明的學生！(Ní shì bān shàng zuì cōngmíng de xuéshēng!)
- You’re smarter than your friends. 你比朋友聪明 / 你比朋友聰明。 (Nǐ bǐ péngyǒu cōngmíng.)
Ways to make praise more effective
In order for praise to become empowering, we can cultivate a growth mindset by reinforcing effort and behavior with careful thought. Strategies include:
- Observing your child and pausing to think before commenting. Even if you are proud of your child, if he or she is focused and not seeking your attention, talking can disrupt our child’s momentum.
- Being specific about what you notice and appreciate.
- Modeling to your child how you reflect on your effort and work; encourage your child to participate as well
- Connecting behavior to outcomes. Note how certain actions have positive and negative consequences.
What’s wrong with “Good Job”?
“Good Job” is not exactly bad per se, but the phrase by itself is vague at best. Other common generic remarks include:
- Nice work. 做得好。(Zuò dé hǎo.)
- That’s great! 那太棒了！ (Nà tài bàngle!)
- Not bad. 很不错 / 很不錯。(Hěn bùcuò.)
Instead this phrase can be paired or replaced with specific feedback. What exactly is “good”? What do you like about whatever you are responding to?
20 Empowering phrases you can try in Chinese and English
Observational comments in Chinese and English
Often times, our kids are not necessarily seeking praise but simply our undivided attention. The following statements are examples of sharing objective observations so our kids hear that we noticed them.
- You made most of it by yourself!
- Dà bùfèn shì nǐ zìjǐ zuò de!
- You did _____ and then you finished!
- Nín zuòle, ránhòu wánchéngle!
- You ate your vegetables!
- Nǐ chīle shūcài!
- You washed your hands!
- Nǐ xǐle shǒu!
- You read the book!
- Nǐ kàn wán shūle!
Effort and behavior-based praise in Chinese and English
The following phrases can help reinforce that our children’s effort and ideas are useful!
- You were very focused!
- Nǐ hěn zhuānxīn!
- You worked very hard!
- Nǐ hěn nǔlì!
- _______ is an awesome idea!
- _________shìgè hěn bàng de zhǔyì!
- Very organized!
- Hěn yǒu zǔzhī nénglì!
- Though it was difficult, you were patient.
- 虽然很难, 但你很有耐心。
- 雖然很難, 但你很有耐心。
- Suīrán hěn nán, dàn nǐ hěn yǒu nàixīn.
Praise with gratitude in Chinese and English
Showing appreciation for our children is a wonderful way to validate their actions.
- Thank you for doing ________, now we can…
- Xièxiè nín zhèyàng zuò……xiànzài wǒmen kěyǐ zuò…..
- I appreciate_____.
- Wǒ gǎnxiè_____.
- Thanks for your help!
- Xièxiè nǐ de bāngzhù!
Phrases that encourage introspection in Chinese and English
Ultimately, we want our children to be intrinsically motivated rather than reliant on external incentives. Questions about their work can help cultivate self-reflection.
- How did you do that?
- Nǐ shì zěnme zuò dào de?
- How did you think of that?
- Nǐ shì zěnme xiǎngdào de?
- How do you feel?
- Nǐ juédé rúhé?
- What do you think about it?
- Nǐ juédé zěnme yàng?
- Can you tell me a little more about this?
- Zài gàosù wǒ duō yīxiē xìjié, hǎo ma?
- After you finish this, what will you do?
- 完成后, 你会做什么?
- Wánchéng hòu, nǐ huì zuò shénme?
- What is your favorite part about this?
- Nǐ zuì xǐhuān de bùfèn shì shénme?
- Anything else you can share with me?
- Hái yǒu shé me kěyǐ gàosù wǒ ne?
Note: observe how your child reacts to questions. Some children may feel like they are getting quizzed on the spot. They may need grown-ups to model answering these types of questions.
Examples of feedback and praise in common scenarios
Scenario 1: Artwork
Child wants to share his/her drawing. Possible responses:
- What did you draw?
- Nǐ huàle shénme?
- Why did you draw this?
- Nǐ wèishéme huà zhège?
- What colors did you use?
- Nǐ yòngle shénme yánsè?
- What is your favorite part about it?
- Nǐ zuì xǐhuān de bùfèn shì shénme?
- Very creative!
- Hěn yǒu chuàngyì!
- Thank you for showing me!
- Xièxiè nǐ gěi wǒ kàn!
Scenario 2: Cleaning/organizing
Child puts away toys. Possible responses:
- Thanks for putting away the toys!
- Xièxiè bǎ wánjù shōu qǐlái.
- The room is tidy, because you put away the toys.
- Fángjiān hěn zhěngjié, yīnwèi nǐ bǎ wánjù shōu hǎole.
- The floor is clean, so it’s very safe. We won’t trip over toys.
- 地板干净时，很安全。 我们不会给地上的玩具绊倒。
- Dìbǎn gānjìng shí, hěn ānquán. Wǒmen bù huì gěi dìshàng de wánjù bàn dào.
- I appreciate your help!
- Wǒ gǎnxiè ní de bāngzhù!
Download examples of effective praise in Chinese and English
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What other phrases do you use to praise your children in Chinese and English?
What was your personal experience with praise in your childhood? Have you noticed how your children responds to different types of praise? What has been most effective?
If you have any suggestions for translations and other encouraging phrases to add, please share in the comments below! We’d love to learn from your family!
Positive affirmations for our children (free printables)
- 30 Positive Affirmations To Tell Our Kids Everyday (English / Chinese Printable)
- Surprise Your Kids With These Positive Heart Messages!
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