“Wow, How Did You Do That?!”


Image: question mark and explacamtion point
Image: Pixabay

I remember it as one of the most uplifting and inspiring questions I have ever gotten from a fellow nonprofit executive director: “Wow, how did you do that?!”

I had just pulled off a coup for my nonprofit organization: I had persuaded more than a dozen foundation funders — some from out of state — to come to our office for a day of learning and conversation about our work. This was no mean feat. It’s often difficult to get even one foundation to visit! But we had a dozen there, mostly paying attention and participating in the discussion.

When my friend asked, “How did you do that?!” I felt an instant surge of accomplishment and recognition. She wasn’t directly praising the meeting that I pulled off. She wasn’t even directly praising me. She was asking a question about something I had accomplished.

A Triple Play Question

I reflected for a moment and offered her a few thoughts about how I had done it. It felt great to share my insights, and answering her question helped me clarify some of the factors that led to my success. These insights further bolstered my confidence and desire to build on the success of that day.

You might think of this question as a triple play: recognition that feels good + catalyst for reflection about how it happened + motivation to keep growing and learning.

It works for adults. It works for kids.

Questions that Encourage

Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words for Kids, offers up a list of questions like this that inspire children’s confidence and sense of ownership of their accomplishments:1

Tell me about how you practiced that?

How did you learn to do that?

How long did you work on that?

What was hardest about doing that?

What was easiest for you?

What made you decide to try that?

Of course, sometimes a simple statement like “Good job” or “I’m so proud of you” is the best choice. But when you have a little time, try asking these kinds of questions of your child. Like the question my friend asked me, these questions stimulate reflection and further effort along with pride of accomplishment. They also convey respect. You are telling to your child that you really want to know about what they have achieved or how they achieved it. You want to learn from them.

Observations that Encourage

Another way to help your child recognize the significance of their accomplishments is to share more detailed observations:

I saw you listening carefully to your friend who was upset. That must have felt good to him.

The detail in your drawing reminds me of _______.

Wow. I see you can hold your handstand for more than 10 seconds!

So the next time you’re about to offer praise to your child, consider a question or observation as a great way to not only share your approval but also promote your child’s awareness of their own accomplishment and their interest in building on it.

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“Wow, How Did You Do That?!”
  1. Kelly Bartlett, Encouraging Words for Kids, pp. 21–22. Thank you to Becky Divinski, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, who deepened my understanding of this concept and introduced me to this book.