Praise vs. Encouragement

The difference between praising your child and encouraging them.

When we were raising our children, we were told to “accentuate the positive.” If our kids behaved well, we were told to accentuate the praise like whipped cream on a latte. We were told, “Be your child’s cheerleader. You’re awesome! You’re super awesome!” There could not be too much positive reinforcement with praise. Experts argued that parents needed to boost their child’s self-esteem by letting them know that you support them 100 percent and that you could not spoil a child by giving them too much enthusiastic support.

Then, experts and some parents started seeing children who thrived on that praise and support to the point where they felt they had failed if they didn’t get over-the-top congratulations for everything they did. These children craved praise and suffered anxiety and depression if they didn’t receive it. Some children were actually less motivated to do well when they received rave reviews. Parents were advised to back off on the superlatives. Enthusiastic support had morphed into manipulation of your child’s feelings about their self-worth, making your child dependent on praise.

But, don’t we all want to persuade and support our children to do their best? And celebrate their successes with them? And give them credit for a job well done? How can we help them to develop an authentic, positive sense of self-esteem if we never address the good stuff? Today, there are many public discussions among parents and early childhood experts on the topic of praise vs. encouragement.

Many child psychologists and parents promote the concept of encouragement over praise. Encouragement is respectful of the child’s experience and avoids involving a value judgment about the child or their performance. Encouragement also contains more information for the child than the easy, but empty phrases like, “That’s great!” Such phrases are well meant, but they don’t really tell the child what is so great about what they just did. Here are a few suggestions from Michigan State University Extension for turning praise into encouragement:

To sum it up, we created this handy chart of Praise vs. Encouragement.

Instead of saying…

Say…

Awesome!

Something specific, such as: “You washed your hands without being told to.”

Way to go!

Something that emphasizes what you value, such as: “You did it yourself!” Or, “You listened very carefully.”

Your picture is nice.

Something about the details, such as, “You used lots of colors in your picture. “

I like your picture.

Something that puts the focus on the child, not you, such as, “You picked an interesting topic for this picture.”

Ummm (Hard to praise because it’s not a great job)

Focus on the effort invested, such as, “You worked really hard to clean up your mess.”

Good job!

It’s been overused…just don’t say it.

 We would also like to suggest some resources for further reading. There is another useful chart at http://virtual.mjc.edu/prussol/Praisevs.pdf. You can also read an online article from the Taleris Institute through www.parentingcounts.org. We have also found discussions on YouTube about praise vs. encouragement and one YouTube site you may wish to view is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1It3dr017JA.

Tune into yourself today and start noticing the way you encourage your child. You might be surprised at the difference you see just by rephrasing some of your most over-used but under-regarded expressions.