Encouragement vs. Praise

Oct 2, 2006

The differences between encouragement and praise have become more widely noted in recent years, and studies have shown there is a long-lasting effect of each/ This article contains examples and information to expand your understanding of the topic, why encouragement is more helpful, and how to put it into practice in your homes.

It is human nature to want to be supportive of those we love. Naturally, that is also true of the parent-child relationship. Many studies have shown that children who receive encouragement during the formative years are more successful later in life. However, there is a growing amount of research indicating that consistent praise can be harmful. (http://www.noogenesis.com/malama/encouragement.html)

If we always reward a child with praise after a task is completed, then the child comes to expect it. However, if praise is not forthcoming, then its absence may be interpreted by the child as failure. (Aldort, 2000). In an effort to find a balance, many clinicians have begun to encourage children in lieu of providing praise.

One of the main differences between praise and encouragement is that praise often comes paired with a judgment or evaluation, such as “best” or “good”. Evaluative praise creates anxiety, invites dependency, and evokes defensiveness. It is non-conducive to self-reliance, self-direction and self-control (Ginott, 1965). Encouragement, on the other hand, allows children to become self-motivated, faithful to themselves, and focused on following their own interests (Grille, 2005).

While praise has long been recommended as an effective tool for parents to build self-esteem in their children, it has become somewhat counter-productive as children learn to “perform” for what they think others expect of them, rather than for their own satisfaction.

Although praising others has become second nature to most of us, learning to encourage forms bonds, understanding and acceptance that is needed for healthy and happy children. While one has to think more, it may be better to use “descriptive recognition,” giving a more precise description of what you wish to encourage, rather than praising.

Here are some specific examples of the differences between the two:

Praise Encouragement
You are the best student. Any teacher would appreciate you.
You are always on time. You tried very hard to be on time.
You did great! You did it!
I am so proud of you. You should be proud of yourself.
You’re a good helper. You straightened all the bookshelves.
Your picture is so pretty. You used all those different colors.

Here is another table indicating the common results of praise and encouragement:

Praise Encouragement
stimulates rivalry and competition stimulates cooperation and contribution for the good of all
focuses on quality of performance focuses on amount of effort and joy
evaluative and judgmental; person feels “judged” little or no evaluation of person or act; person feels “accepted”
fosters selfishness at the expense of others fosters self-interest, which does not hurt others
emphasis on global evaluation of the person-“You are better than others.” emphasis on specific contributions -“You have helped in this way.”
creates quitters creates triers
fosters fear of failure fosters acceptance of being imperfect
fosters dependence fosters self-sufficiency and independence

This is certainly a challenge, when it is so easy to say “Good job!” and mean it. However, if we can become encouragers, it not only benefits the children who are quickly growing into adults, but us too.

Information referenced from http://www.noogenesis.com/malama/encouragement.html