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Encouragement vs. Praise

Encouragement vs. Praise

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When I was raising my children the go-to experts at the time said to accentuate the positive and go heavy on the praise. Of course we wanted our children to know that they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. Too much praise didn’t exist. We thought we were demonstrating our 100% support and this enthusiastic, positive praise would not spoil our children.

I did notice that children quickly learned to expect praise. If clapping or exclamation did not follow their attempts to perform daily activities, they became anxious and sort of obnoxious doing it over and over again until an adult noticed. What message did this give to children about their self worth? Dr. Stephen Hughes shared that some children develop narcissistic tendencies when they were exposed to constant praise.*

After learning about Montessori and the difference between praise and encouragement, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, I had different thoughts about how to be my children’s best advocate. How do we give children credit for a job well done and help support a positive self-esteem if we don’t talk about what they are doing? This is where encouragement comes in.

Encouragement is the action of giving someone support, confidence and hope. Encouragement makes someone more determined, and is the act of making something more appealing. Encouraging statements are specific to the accomplishment to give focus to the exact behavior. You can offer support by noticing the details of children’s efforts and shows that you are paying attention.

For example:

Instead of saying “Awesome!” you can say something specific, such as, “You washed your hands without being told to.” Or “You did it yourself!” or “You listened very carefully.”

Instead of “Your painting is so beautiful, I like it” say “You used a lot of colors in your picture, tell me about it.”

Jane Nelson, of Positive Discipline has these guidelines for those who want to change from praise to encouragement. She suggest keeping these questions in mind.

  • Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
  • Am I being respectful or patronizing?
  • Am I seeing the child’s point of view or only my own?
  • Would I make this comment to a friend?

Giving children external physical rewards like stickers, toys or treats for doing well or meeting expectations only lasts for a few moments. Encouraging children for their efforts and being helpful develops intrinsic motivation. This is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Intrinsically motivated children are able to delay gratification, persist, and helps them to become life long learners.

Research by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. a professor at Columbia University, has now proven what Adler taught years ago. Praise is not good for children. Dweck found that praise can hamper risk taking. Children who were praised for being smart when they accomplished a task chose easier tasks in the future. They didn’t want to risk making mistakes. On the other hand, children who were “encouraged” for their efforts were willing to choose more challenging tasks when given a choice.Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets is fascinating. Please watch her video about the effects of praise.




* Dr. Stephen Hughes, November 2, 2016, presentation at Resurrection Episcopal School, New York, NY.

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