Teaching Our Children: Encouragement vs Praise

  • November 10, 2016 /

Is it better to teach children perfection or progress and improvement? Is a right or wrong outcome more important to a child than a meaningful experience? Do good or bad decisions outweigh the decision-making process? Is pride or disappointment more meaningful than acceptance and support? If you’re a parent asking any one of these moral questions, then you may also be pondering the best approach for raising your children. The common thread among them all — encouragement vs praise.   

First, what is praise?

Simply, praise focuses on how the adult — rather than the child — thinks or feels. Praise often includes a judgment such as “good” as in, “You’re such a good boy,” or “I’m so proud of you for doing a good job.” The concept of praise sounds effective but has a major flaw — it sends a subtle message that the adult’s opinion matters most. Consequently, praised children tend to do things to please adults — rather than acting on their own personal motivation.

So, then what is encouragement?

Encouragement is a non-judgmental way to point out a specific fact with no evaluation. A parent or teacher may encourage a child by saying, “You really worked hard” or “I bet you are proud to complete the puzzle.” Encouragement focuses on what child does well — rather than what the parent or teacher thinks about it. Encouraged children thus tend to develop a stronger self-motivation and additional pride in their work.

More problems with praise.

Praise does more than destroy motivation. The constant judgment of right or wrong, good or bad, pride or disappointment, can damage not just the child’s confidence but the entire parent/child relationship. Praise creates anxiety, invites dependency and evokes defensiveness. It’s non-conducive to self-reliance, self-direction and self-control. Still, there are even more problems with praise.

  • Praise trains children to depend on constant positive feedback — shattering, rather than building, their self-esteem. Praised children frequently ask, “Do you like it?” “Did I do a good job?” “Are you proud of me?”
  • Praise reinforces that what other people think is more important than a child’s own thoughts about his or her choices, actions, accomplishments and mistakes.
  • Praise inhibits a child’s ability to develop the internal compass to guide his or her decision-making process.

More reasons for encouragement.

Encouragement proves far more effective in a child care setting. It builds self-esteem, motivation to work, and cooperation with others. Encouraged children stay faithful to themselves and focus on following their own interests. Encouragement also forms the bonds, understanding and acceptance children need to be happy and healthy. Encouraged children develop the courage to grow and develop, to feel capable, to be resilient, to enjoy life, to be happy and contribute to society. Encouraged children feel free to make mistakes and learn from them. Still, there’s even more reasons to encourage.

  • Encouragement focuses on effort. Children build pride in their own work.
  • Encouragement sets children up for success. If a teacher praises one student for being a “good reader” — another student may conclude he is not as good at reading. If a teacher instead encourages the student for “reading bigger words” — then other students have no reason to doubt their own ability to also read big words.
  • Encouragement teaches children to evaluate themselves on their own merits. With feedback from teachers, children learn to self-evaluate without comparison to other student’s successes. It promotes the mindset: “What I think about myself is more important than what others think of me.”