Interview with Kelly Bartlett, Author of “Encouraging Words for Kids” (Plus, WIN A COPY!)


Kelly Bartlett is one of my e-friends; though have never met in person, the interactions we have had over email and digital media makes me feel like I could sit down for coffee with her tomorrow and we would chat like old friends.  Kelly’s blog, Parenting From Scratch [], and her book, Encouraging Words for Kids [], have both been enormously helpful to me in my journey as a parent and educator. 

 Many of us have heard of the notion that praising kids might not nurture the traits we hope for in our children, but the practice of shifting our vocabulary can be overwhelming!  Encouraging Words for Kids is like the how-to manual for those of us trying to raise kids without saying “Good job!” 

 I am grateful that Kelly agreed to let me ask her a few questions and offered a copy of her book to one lucky reader!  (Instructions for entering the giveaway at the bottom!)


EP: What led you to write this book?


KB: I read Alfie Kohn’s “Unconditional Parenting” when my children were young and liked the concept a lot. I wanted to raise kids who aren’t motivated by rewards and praise but instead have an internal drive to do what’s right and to do a “good job” because doing so simply aligns with their work ethic. When I first started making a shift away from using blanket praise (like telling my children “Good job!” for every little thing), I was often left wondering, “But now what should I say?” If my child did something amazing or celebratory, I couldn’t just sit there quietly! But if “good job” wasn’t the most effective way to respond, what was the alternative? I found many other parents had the same question, and I put this book together as a response. It’s over 150 examples of what encouragement without praise sounds like, in a variety of different types of situations. It’s meant to be a strong, practical start to help parents understand what unconditional communication sounds like.

EP: One question I am frequently asked is, “What about all the adults who don’t talk to our kids this way?” (teachers, care providers, family) – do you have any helpful tips for this?


KB: Yes, that is hard! Remember that the people who have the most influence on a child’s life are the ones to which that child is attached–mom and dad. While it’s true that children will experience different interactions with different people in their lives, the ones that will have the most impact on their development are the ones they’ll have with you. So make sure you touch base with your kids often about what’s going on in their lives and the experiences they have when they’re not with you.


My son once won a medal on his football team for participation. It was the weekly medal the coaches gave out–every week a different child “won” it for doing a “good job.” I didn’t agree with this practice, but could see that my son really enjoyed playing on the team. When he received the medal, my husband and I made sure to talk to him about it…not about why he got the medal, but about why he enjoyed playing on the team. We talked about good it felt when he scored touchdowns and how proud he was when was able to dodge players who were after his flag. And this medal would now remind him of the fun times he had at practices and games. We wanted to make sure he was aware of the reasons he played–for the fun and the sport and the friends–not for any material rewards it might bring.


So when your child has “conditional” moments with teachers or other adults in her life, try to reframe those moments with her and focus on the actions behind it rather than just the outcome. Ask questions about her behavior, her thoughts, her feelings. How did she feel when she shared her sandwich with her friend who had no lunch? What made her decide to add more detail to her school project? Try to articulate the reasons behind the teacher’s desire to praise or reward and help your child see the value in her actions. This will go far in helping to develop that “inner compass” even when other adults interact with your kids differently than you do.

EP:  What about children who flat-out ask: “Do you like this picture?” or “Do I look pretty?”  Do you have any suggestions for managing this?


KB: I like to draw attention to the details that stand out to me most. For example, if my answer would be that yes, I do like the picture, I’ll first stop to consider why I like it and communicate that instead of just giving a general “Oh yes, it’s excellent.” It might sound something like this: “Wow! The colors are so vibrant! And I notice you covered the whole page which makes it extra eye-catching. My favorite thing is this tiny dog you drew right here in the corner. What’s your favorite part?” So I’m giving feedback without teaching a child to need someone else’s approval. He is able to decide for himself what to like about his picture, how he feels about it, what he would change, and how satisfied he is with it. His works stays about him.

EP: Any final words of encouragement for parents or care providers?


KB: It does take more time to respond to kids with encouragement versus a quick statement of praise, but very worthwhile in the long run for their development of self-esteem and confidence. Kids grow up free of the constraints that come with always needing someone else’s approval to feel good about themselves. How valuable is that? And I will say this: it gets easier! The more you practice using encouragement versus praise, the easier it is to respond in this way. Start with a few key phrases to replace–swap “good job” for “thank you!” or “wow!”–and you very quickly get the feel for the language of unconditionality. Soon, it begins to feel strange to give statements of praise without any additional feedback or encouragement behind it.



Would you like to win your own copy of Encouraging Words for Kids?  Leave a comment below with a word of encouragement for parents or educators of young children.  I will draw the winner randomly in one week. 



Kelly Bartlett is a Certified Positive Discipline Educator, Attachment Parenting Leader and mother of two. She writes and speaks regularly on the topics of child development, family relationships and discipline, and her articles have appeared in parenting magazines worldwide. You can connect with her at


Categories: Book Review, Guidance | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “Interview with Kelly Bartlett, Author of “Encouraging Words for Kids” (Plus, WIN A COPY!)

  1. I think it’s exactly what I need ♥♥♥
    I am new to positive/respectful parenting and I read a lot to do it right. Alternative ways to say “good jobs” (and in my case, translating them afterwards to a different language) is a challenge.
    Thank you

  2. Cris

    I try to make comments noticing my daughter’s effort when she comes up with a piece of art she’s made. I also just comment what I see, without judging, e.g., “I see you’ve combined straight and round lines”

  3. Leila Byron

    I appreciate this philosophy, and could certainly use some help with it. Thanks for your contributions to helping parents, and improving our world.

  4. Tanene K.

    Especially helpful is the dialogue you provided, Kelly, as how to turn a ‘conditional’ reward system comment into positive connection and feeling inquiry with the child. Reframing the event without blame; then discussing to learn what’s going on inside the child really deepens the experience. Thank you. Looks like a! Congrats.

  5. Suzanne sumi

    I am a preschool teacher in a coop preschool and am always on the lookout for ideas to pass along to parents. I do not say “good job” to kids at school, I try and comment on their action? I thank you for another resource.

  6. Matilde

    A word of encouragement for parents or educators of young children: Have time (not only number of minutes or hours but real time) to understand what the child needs by having time together.

  7. Megan

    I wish so much parents/grandparents/friends would think about the impact of comments like “you look so pretty” to the girl in a dress – I gave that statement up years ago and try to focus on something else besides a child looking pretty – “you have 2 braids in your hair, that must have taken a long time to sit”, or “that color of your dress reminds me of a sunflower”.

  8. Gabriella

    I always enjoy Kelly’s posts, and I am sure the book is just as helpful and encouraging. This subject is so important, and I am hoping that I can learn and practice it one step ahead as my child needs it from me. Growing up not confident and always seeking others approval I especially value this help, for my child, and myself as well. Thank you for your opportunity!

  9. I like to share with parents the comment….” You must be proud of yourself” to say to their child instead of , “I am so proud of you!”

  10. Liz

    Sounds like a fabulous book. There is such a gift in the “right” words for the “right” occasion which in turn can help so much with the buiding of positive relationships

  11. bil

    I am in that exact spot right now where i dont know what to say instead of a blanket praise:-) it is hard to try getting the words:-)

  12. WOW! Thank you for sharing, Emily and Kelly. How does it feel to impact the lives of families in this viral, vonderful vay?

  13. Sarah Anderson

    Thank you for sharing this. We as parents and educators need wisdom from each other. When I feel ill equipped to lovingly teach my own boys, these are the kinds of truths I need to use. We can change our world by relearning how to do things like carefully choosing our words, not just our words to our children, but actually changing the way we speak to everyone. Let’s be intentional about what we say!

  14. I love the idea of reframing other adults’ “conditional moments.” I struggle with the reward-based classroom management systems of my kids’ schools and my daughter’s gymnastics coach. I am working to change the system, but in the meantime it is nice to have a strategy to reduce its impact on my own kids.

  15. Monica

    What a wonderful message! I hope to win the book.

  16. Curtis

    I’ve never read Unconditional Parenting, so my question might be a bit naive… It would seem to me that my 4 and 6 year old are less concerned about what I say about their drawing etc, but more about the interaction it draws between. Just as I want to come home and tell my wife about something exciting that happened at work… I’m not motivated by approval but by connection and sharing. She could say good job, wow, that sucks, or tell me more about that and would so much matter to me as long as I feel a sense of connection. Is this what you are getting at… How to maintain a sense of connection and worth in between parents and children that isn’t performance based?

    • Kelly

      Exactly Curtis! It’s a lot about connection and empathy, bringing the two of you closer together and leaving any evaluation up to the child to decide what he thinks of things.

  17. This would be an excellent read for may of our parents and staff

  18. Anne

    Would love to read more about this, so interesting and relevant. I have 3 granddaughters and I feel the line between praise and encouragement is a little blurred for me. I feel we all want the best for our young people, and a little guidance can make a world of difference and have lifelong benefits.

  19. This sounds like a good book! I try and describe or reflect what my child is doing e.g. You managed to use that spoon all by yourself, well done!

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