It’s tempting, when kids are struggling, to assume the role of cheerleader.  How could it not help to provide a steady stream of encouragement and enthusiasm at every turn?

Here’s how: it can damage your credibility, and the older they get, the more you’re going to need it.  Kids know the difference between plain cheerleading and authentic, valid feedback.  They know when you’re just cheering them on and when you’re offering feedback that can be substantiated.  For example, if every time kids stumble their way through a short book you say “Good job!  Really good job!  You’re getting so much better!” it can sound empty.  If instead you are careful to say things that are true and specific like “it seems as though the bigger words aren’t giving you as much trouble as before,” or “I liked the way you read the dog’s voice that time,” they’ll know that you’re actually paying attention and responding to what’s happening.  You’re not just waiting until the end of the book to exclaim with delight no matter how they’ve done.  This kind of language gives you credibility.  It may sound like a dull way to speak, as though it won’t buoy them up, but when you say things whose validity they can check against their own experience of how things are going, they know they can trust you.  They’ll know that when you do let out a spontaneous cheer, the day they sail fluently through a tough section of text, it’ll be real.