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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Wright

Encouragement vs Praise

Encouragement and praise appear very similar when used, but the difference between the two can have a huge impact on your child's development. This post will discuss the difference between encouragement and praise while also explaining how increasing the use of encouragement will benefit your child and family. 

Parenting is always evolving and adjusting as we learn more on child development and mental health. Researchers have found that negative or harsh parenting is detrimental, but they have also discovered that over praising and reliance on rewards can be just as detrimental. Encouragement finds the happy balance between the two and nurtures a child's mental health and development. 

What is Praise?

​Praise is defined in the dictionary as: "the expression of approval or admiration for someone or something." Based on this definition it is difficult to see how admiring your child and showing them how proud you are of them can be detrimental. It is very natural for humans, especially parents, to have a strong desire to express their love and approval. However, constant praise and over use of praise can cause children to rely on other's for happiness.

Praise is often given to children as an expression of how someone feels about what they did, or an evaluation, and does not address how the child feels. Praise is a judgement; although it is intended to be a positive judgement,  the child is relying on the judgement and approval of others to determine whether or not they were successful. When praise is later absent, the lack of praise will be interpreted as failure by the child. They have become reliant on other's opinions and are unable to determine for themselves how they feel.

A child's interpretation and perception of situations can be very different than adults. For example if we say "good job!" every time they get an "A" on a test they may think when they get a "B" the next time that they are stupid.  Another example is "you are so good at cleaning your room." If we comment on everything they do well, they may interpret that as "I'm only accepted and loved when I do these things."

Over praising teaches children to preform based on what they interpreted other's to expect rather than finding their own satisfaction. Praise can also  only be given at the end when there is success or achievement. Praise does not address the effort, and this often leads to children becoming frustrated,  giving up and not persisting. 

What is Encouragement?

The Dictionary defines encouragement as: "to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence." Looking at this definition we can see how praise and encouragement defer. Praise is worded as a statement one gives and encouragement is worded as an action that one can do. Statements can be interrupted as insincere at times by children.

Encouragement helps children to believe in themselves and find internal happiness and motivation. By using encouragement we are able to teach children that the effort they put forth is just as, if not more, important than the final product. Encouragement can be given at any time, whereas praise can only be given when a child is successful. Children will learn to be resilient, not give up, work hard and learn from mistakes. They will become persistent and determined beings. When children learn to appreciate and value the effort they put forward to succeed, rather than just the achievement at the end, their problem solving skills will develop further and they will feel even more empowered, confident and internal pride. 

When an adult gives a child encouragement we are showing them that we believe in them, accept them as they are, and that we have faith that they can do difficult things. We are not placing judgement, rather we are inspiring them to try new things and improve. The child will no longer need an external source to tell them they feel good; they will be able to take ownership of their feelings and recognize that their feelings of pride and happiness are available even when others are not present.

This concept boosts the child's self-esteem and communicates that they are capable beings with internal opinions and drive. When a child thinks higher of themselves they will begin to behave in a manner that reflects their self interpretation. 

Translating Praise into Encouragement

Common phrases when using encouragement include:

"You did it!"

"You got it!"

"You figured it out!"

"You worked really hard on that!"

"You didn't give up!"

"You are proud of yourself"

Notice that encouragement often starts with "you" and the tone of voice and facial expressions should match that of the child's.

Here are some statements of praise and how you can use encouragement instead!

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