How to give feedback to your child or student

By Annette Paterakis

As parents, trainers or coaches, we obviously only want the best for our child or student. However, sometimes, our best efforts can backfire. Giving certain praise or feedback, or using certain language, despite being done with the best intentions, can trigger unhelpful behavior and impact your child or student in a negative way. Let’s become aware of how we can best support, guide and encourage our children and students to stay motivated and confident in themselves.

1. Praise effort over performance

As you might have read in one of my previous blogs “Why your mindset controls your riding” (if you haven’t read it yet, read it here), the mindset we adopt has a huge impact on how we learn, fail, improve and get back up again. As a trainer or parent, we can stimulate a growth mindset or encourage a fixed one. According to Carol Dweck, praising talent, skills and results encourages a fixed mindset.

For example, compliments such as, “well done for riding such a beautiful clear round” or “you got all your distances right, you have such an amazing eye”, may sound like positive, encouraging and confidence-boosting messages. However, the underlying messages your child or student might hear are, “if I don’t ride beautiful clear rounds, I failed” and “if I miss a distance, this might be proof that I am not good enough”. Giving praise like this does provide a momentary boost, but this boost can be short lived. The moment they make a mistake, their motivation to train harder drops away and their confidence drops away even harder.

On the other hand, when we praise effort, we help our child or student focus more on the process, which is something they have complete control over. This will encourage them to take on new challenges, get out of their comfort zone and, most importantly, embrace failure and learning in order to improve and get better. “Process praise keeps students focused, not on something called ability that they may or may not have and that magically creates success or failure, but on processes they can all engage in to learn,” writes Dweck. This kind of praise might sound more like this, “you trained really hard/smart the past few weeks and your clear round is proof of that, well done” or “working on those gymnastics and cavaletti exercises really helped you find your distances easily, great effort!”

2. Use questions instead of criticism

Nine times out of ten, your student knows exactly what went wrong in their course. Repeating what went wrong, or what was bad, is not going to help them think about a solution or help them think about how they will do it better next time. Chances are, this kind of feedback only brings down their motivation and confidence. So instead, help your student by asking high-quality questions, to get high-quality answers. Three questions I personally use a lot and encourage my clients to use daily are:

What went well?
What could have been better?
How are you going to improve this?

In general, the more questions we ask, the more they need to think for themselves. Something they need to ultimately be able to do in the ring as well. Another example would be, when walking the course, to always first ask your student what they think their game plan should be before telling them what to do.


“As a trainer, you can ignite great confidence just by trusting your students and their instincts on the horse.”


3. Trust them as much as they should trust themselves

As a trainer, you can ignite great confidence just by trusting them and their instincts on the horse. This is something Lorenzo De Luca shared with me once. He told me when he just started riding at 5-star Grand Prix level, his trainer, Henk Nooren, often used language to help encourage self confidence and quick thinking in the ring. He would say, “I think you can do this line in five strides, but you decide what you think is best here.” For Lorenzo, this was a huge boost and helped him to trust and follow his own instincts more. 

4. Train strengths instead of weaknesses

Another important way to help increase confidence in our students or children is to focus on improving their strengths instead of their “weaknesses” only. If you think about it, no chef d’équipe will ever put your student or child on their team because of their weaknesses.