The REAL Difference Between Praise and Encouragement

The REAL Difference Between Praise and Encouragement

Praise for childrenBethany Larson & Jenny Cooper

Do you want your child to be honest, genuine and to form meaningful relationships with others?  Of course you do!  As parents we want our children to be the best they can be and to become successful in their lives.  However in order for our children to be successful as parents we need to understand the difference between giving praise and encouragement to our children. In The Parent’s Handbook from the “S.T.E.P.” program, the authors give the difference between praise and encouragement in a few simple sentences. “With praise, children learn to please others….with a lot of praise, children believe they must please other people. Encouragement from parents helps children feel valued just for being – for being who they are.” (Dinkmeyer, McKay, & Dinmeyer, 1997)

The self-esteem movement largely grew out of the ‘me decade’ 1970s and gained momentum in the 1980s as organizations like the National Council for Self Esteem (now called the National Association for Self Esteem) came to the fore. The National Association for Self Esteem posts this mission statement:

“The purpose of our organization is to fully integrate self-esteem into the fabric of American society so that every individual, no matter what their age or background, experiences personal worth and happiness.”

This idea had good intentions; however the research, especially in our present day, is showing opposite results to what was expected from constantly praising children. Many think that the main problem with this concept is that praise is over-done in the classroom and at home. However, the real problem is the motive of why you’re giving that praise.

Ask yourselves these questions.  When you give praise to your child, student, co-worker or whoever:

  • Is it to benefit you?
  • Is it to make you look better or “nicer”?
  • Is it to be in control of the situation?

Many times people mention a certain someone who was “the nicest” person they have ever known.  When asked why they thought that person was nice, they would respond by saying, “Because they always tells me how great I look; and not only to me, but everybody!”  Surprisingly, we were not shocked at hearing this response because it seems like today more people would rather be instantly gratified with a “fluffy” comment than be intrinsically motivated. The problem with being instantly gratified is that you want it more and more like it’s a drug. You get addicted to hearing it and eventually become dependent on the praise rather than being confident in knowing the type of person you are.

Praising ChildrenEncouragement is personal, while praise is not.  Praise can be said to anyone at anytime about anything, whereas encouragement takes time and purposefully looking for something specific to say to each child.  A few  “good jobs” can and should be thrown around here and there , but when your child comes home and tells you about the exceptional grade they got on a test that day or about a difficult decision to decline a cigarette from their peers, “good job” just doesn’t cut it.

Being personal and specific with your words to your child (or any person, for that matter) carries with it a distinct sense of sincerity.  In the movie, You’ve Got Mail, lead character Kathleen Kelly strikes a chord with being personal when she says, “…what’s so wrong with being personal anyway?  Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”  No other person in the world knows your child like you do, so talk to him or her personally, not passively.

Passive praise is dangerous because it is easy, but using encouragement can be difficult.  This difficulty arises because being sincere and personal requires thought and action.  Action seems to go against our natural impulses.  Passivity doesn’t require action or thought, but instead merely requires a response:  “You’re so great!”, or “Wow, you’re an amazing artist!”  Authentic and individual-specific words, phrases and questions (encouragement), require thought and time.

Alfie Kohn, a popular author and speaker on parenting, education, and human behavior says in his article “Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job’” that the following build your child’s internal, rather than their external, motivation:

  • saying nothing, but speaking through your body language
  • saying what you saw (giving specifics)
  • asking questions

By doing these things, it allows your child to be the one in charge of his or her own thoughts. When you practice and carry out these three suggestions, you are giving encouragement to your child. No manipulation, high expectations, or control take place when you use  encouragement.  Kohn also says that this “doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so.”

So as not to not be confused, here are examples of praise and encouragement and what the child perceives from both (Parenting Young Children, 1997):

Praise – “You’re such a good kid!”; “Great job!”; “I’m so proud of you!”

 Encouragement – “How do you feel about it?”; “You can do it.”; “I really appreciate your help.”

                               

PRAISE

ENCOURAGEMENT

 Underlying           What Child May       Possible                   Underlying           What Child May          Possible

Characteristics           Hear/Perceive         Results                Characteristics          Hear/Perceive            Results

Focus is on external control

“I am worthwhile only when I do what you want.”

“Child learns to measure worth by ability to conform; or child rebels (views any form of cooperation as giving in).

Focus is on child’s ability to manage life constructively.

“I am trusted to become responsible and independent.

Child learns courage to be imperfect and willingness to try.  Child gains self-confidence and comes to feel responsible for own behavior.

Is rewarded only for well-done, completed tasks.

“To be worthwhile I must meet your standards.”

Child develops unrealistic standards and learns to measure worth by how closely she/he reaches perfection.  Child learns to dread failure.

Recognizes effort and improvement.

“I don’t have to be perfect.  My efforts and improvements are important.”

Child learns to accept efforts of self and others.  Child develops desire to stay with tasks (persistence).

 

Bethany LarsonJenny CooperBethany Larson and Jenny Cooper are recent graduates of Brigham Young University – Idaho majoring in Marriage and Family Studies.  Both hope to attend graduate school in the near future to increase their knowledge of and experience with families, children, social policy and advocacy.

 

Resources

Dinkmeyer, D. Sr., McKay, G. D. & Dinmeyer, D. Jr. (1997). The parent’s book: Systematic training for effective parenting. Minnesota: American Guidance Service, Inc.

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