Praise Versus Encouragement
By: Dr. Staci Born, EdD, LMFT, RPT-S
Rudolf Dreikurs, an early child psychologist taught, “A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water.” That is, a child may not perish without encouragement but they can absolutely wither in its absence. You might be thinking – “of course I encourage my child, I tell them great job all the time!” But hang in there to know the power of words and how our best intentions can be improved. Praise, such as “good job,” actually trains children to depend on feedback from others and misses the crucial opportunity to build a child’s self-esteem.
So what’s the cure? Encouragement. This can be given to anyone, at anytime, in any situation. It’s an observation that focuses on feelings, effort, improvement, or choice. And, it promotes self-esteem, autonomy, sense of well-being and confidence.
Let’s set the scene with an example. You’re spending time with a child who is near and dear to you. The two of you are enjoying coloring a picture. The child pauses, looks at your paper, and then at you and says, “Look what I made!” Before reading on, imagine how you might respond. Instinctual
responses might include, “I love it!” “It’s beautiful!” However, take pause for a moment. These praising responses are more about you than they are about what the child is expressing to you through the creation of their artwork. While these praises are positively oriented what they imply can actually foster dependence on others for approval and reinforcement.
Instead, imagine your response to be one of encouragement, “You’re proud of your creation!” “You worked hard on that and want to show me how proud you are!” “You used all kinds of colors to create this!” The encouragement places the subject of the dialogue directly back to the child and builds the child’s belief in their ability to persist, create, and express
In addition to reinforcing seeking outside approval, praise also promotes a child’s desire to perfect rather than persisting and progressing. Additionally, praise often implies something is either “good” or “bad” – and labelling with values can imply that the child is either good or bad. Instead, seek to utilize encouragement to demonstrate acceptance and support to the child, no matter what their product or accomplishment may be. Encouragement will support children in developing an internal framework for assessing their own lives, attitudes, choices and behaviors. Trust me, it might seem unnatural at first, and that’s ok. This is a linguistic shift that has been engrained in who and how we are for a long time! My advice to you, simply start by noticing the child’s efforts, recognizing the emotions on their faces, and be sincere in the delivery of your encouragement!
Thirsting for more? Check out more on encouragement versus praise in: Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson and How to Talk so Kids Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk by by Adele Faber.