Q. My daughter is in fifth grade and my son is in third grade. He has dyslexia. She doesn’t. I know self-esteem is really important. How can I praise each of my kids without making the other child feel bad?
A. My first bit of advice is to focus more on the quality of the praise you’re giving each of your kids rather than the quantity. Usually siblings don’t notice the quantity of praise unless it’s heavily skewed toward one child. But siblings do notice how sincere the praise is.
Try to make sure your tone of voice and your excitement level are reasonably consistent. Kids can often tell when you’re stretching to praise something that’s not really good.
How can you give honest praise to both kids when one is struggling in many areas and the other isn’t? Praise your kids’ efforts. Working toward a goal is just as praiseworthy as the finished product.
Celebrate the process. Your child with dyslexia may need a bit more of this approach than your other child.
For example, you could say to your third grader, “I like the way you sounded out the words that were new for you in your homework. You’re really using the method Mrs. Anderson taught you about how to read new or unfamiliar words. It seems like it will make this kind of homework less frustrating. That’s great!”
You can also engineer some successes. When assigning chores or organizing family activities, look for things that each of your kids has a good chance of doing well. This is especially important to do for a child who is struggling with academics.
It’s also important to praise your kids as often as possible for doing something together. Make it a point to praise them when they’re managing to be with each other and enjoy what they’re doing together.
You could say, “It’s so good to see you two playing that new game together. There hasn’t been one single argument. Nice job.”
Try to catch your kids being nice to each other. Praise them for even the smallest acts of kindness. Be precise. And look for ways to praise one child for helping without playing down the other child’s role: “I like that you helped your brother with the tough part of the Lego project he was working on. He finished it on time and did a good job — and you made it easier for him to see how the parts connected.”
By focusing on each of your kids’ strengths and their ability to work together, you can make both of them feel appreciated.