Whether the student is 55 or 5, they need to hear words of encouragement, honesty, and positive praise from their trainer. The statements need to be heart felt and they need to be authentic. You cannot shower the student with too many or they will not believe you. I caution you with being too sparse with compliments, too. Withholding feedback is not a good line of communication between the student and the instructor.
Becoming a good communicator takes time to develop certain key skills: timing, word selection, and putting a positive twist on are area of growth. As an instructor, you also must “use all your words”. That basically means you have to overly describe what you are trying to convey to not leave anything up for interpretation during direct instruction or during feedback. I once told a lady that she should ride in the intermediate division instead of the novice division. She took this as me saying she was a cheater, when all I meant was her horsemanship skills are no longer novice and she rides beautifully. People can be sensitive in an instructor-student relationship, and not be very generous with their assumptions. It is the instructor’s job to make sure and take the extra time to fully verbalize their thoughts.
Students need to hear honesty. Now, this does not have to come at them with cruelty. For example, if you have a student that is constantly in your mule’s mouth and you have told them time and time again, they are in the mule’s mouth. It is not time to yell or to be harsh, it is time to address this issue differently. You ride the mule, and the student must tell you when you are in the mule’s mouth (you purposely make a mistake so the student can see what it looks like from the ground). Or, if you have a fabulously trained mule, place a paper towel around the rein and have the student steer the mule with the softness to not break the paper towel. When they can stop without breaking the paper towel, then give them positive praise. If the student tries to stop the mule, but the paper towel breaks, then they need words of encouragement.
In this example let’s look at the difference between honesty, words of encouragement, and positive praise.
Honesty: You are in the mule’s mouth too much. We need to work on balance without the use of our hands as much and/or releasing the mule quicker and/or the correct place the have your hands on the reins.
Words of Encouragement: I know you can improve in this hour. Ok, we will get it this next try, I know you can get this! This was something I had to work on myself, too.
Positive Praise: Oh, nice placement of your hands! I saw you trot with your hands down for the first five seconds! G-Double O-D-J-O-B Good Job Good Job!
Words can stick with people for a lifetime. They can cut people to the bone or they can lift them to the sky. I hope all of your students soar.