I find it is important to give honest feedback to children. I won't tell a child he's doing a good job, unless I honestly feel it is a good job. I tell the truth.
I choose to be honest with children. They know how they're doing. If they're not putting in much effort, and you tell them they're doing a good job, isn't that giving them the wrong message? Isn't that telling them they don't need to try?
I've often found the best way to build self esteem is to give opportunities for the child to work. I'm sure most people, after completing a very difficult project, are beaming with pride. I remember caressing the cover of certain reports in college, simply because it was the result of a whole lot of hard work, and I felt proud that it was completed.
In every day work, I use a simple system. Since I work with young ones, they need feedback within a day if possible. Since many are non readers or beginning readers, I need to make it simple to understand. I use highlighters and a traffic light system.
I'll highlight the child's name in one of these colors:
Green: Go! You're doing just what's expected of a second grader.
Yellow: Caution: there are some things you need to be careful about
Red: Stop! There's a problem here.
There is one more color I use: purple. Purple means "above and beyond the expectations of a second grader." Purple means they are royalty.
I'm very stingy with purple. They really have to go "above and beyond" to get it. And they should be extremely proud when they earn it.
These are the papers I usually show off to the whole class. Not only do they get the feedback they need, they are now role models for the others. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that I bow to them, and refer to them as "kings and queens".)
And what about the kids who gets yellow or red? Does this destroy their self esteem? Of course not! They know that if they didn't put in any effort, they won't get much in return. They also know if they don't like what they got, they have the power to change that. I often remind them: when the going gets tough, the tough get going!
How do you give feedback?