Encouragement vs. Praise

A SMOOTH SEA NEVER MADE A SKILLED SAILOR.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

A common mistake that a lot of parents make (and I’m guilty of having done the same) is that we too often praise our children when they do something new or well and we get super excited and shower them kisses and cuddles to show them how proud we are of what they’ve accomplished. Although we think our praise is motivating them to continue doing better, it’s actually having the opposite effect. What we should be doing is using words of encouragement instead. 

‘So what’s the difference between ‘praise’ and ‘encourage’?’ I hear you ask.

Praise is when we show our approval towards something, i.e. our child wins the 100m race on Sports Day and we say ‘Well done, you were so fast!’, or they passed their science test and we tell them how clever they are. What we are doing here is praising the child’s character rather than the EFFORT. 

Praise teaches the child that they need approval from others. They will depend on external factors to make them feel good and consequently believe that they have to look for things or people to make them feel happy. If they receive any negative feedback or criticism, this could completely crush their confidence and self-esteem and it would take a lot of time, effort and rewiring to change this thinking pattern. 

Encouragement, on the other hand, helps the child believe in themselves and their capabilities. Over time, this teaches them that happiness comes from within and they don’t need people or things to make them feel good. They will learn that inner contentment isn’t built from external factors and therefore they are responsible for their own level of happiness. They also learn that their success is dependent upon their effort and only they are in control of the amount of effort they put into something.

EXAMPLES OF ENCOURAGEMENT:

Here are some examples of phrases that express encouragement:

  • “You seem to like that”
  • “You seem to be enjoying that”
  • “It looks like you had a lot of fun”
  • “I can see you put a lot of effort into that”
  • “It’s very generous of you to share your …”
  • “How do you feel about…?”
  • “I need your help on…”
  • “What do you think?”
  • “Thanks, that helped me a lot”
  • “You can do it”
  • “You’re getting better at…”
  • “I like the way you…”
  • “You really worked hard on that”

When you are sharing encouraging words with your child, make sure you are specific about what you are commenting on as it is more likely to come across as genuine, i.e. “I like the way you brainstormed that question and came up with a really effective solution”, or “it was a good idea to organise those books in size order”. This will reinforce positive behaviours and the child will develop a growth mindset and learn that practice and repetition will help them master the skill. This is crucial for when the child experiences set-backs, or failures, as they will understand that next time, they will need to put more effort into it.

On the flip side, children who are accustomed to ‘praise’ would feel like they are not good enough when they experience failure or rejection, and this could quickly turn into a downward spiral.

We always want to ensure we focus on the EFFORT the child puts in rather praising their character.

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