In most parenting literature today, you will find the words ‘encouragement’ and ‘praise’ together, as if they were the same thing. Rudolf Dreikurs, a pioneer of democratic parenting, says they are not. It is an area of parenting that is worth some reflection.
Encouragement is about creating ‘courage’. It also creates self-belief and allows others to see their own strengths. This in turn leads to high self-esteem – the ability to believe that we have what it takes to achieve what we want.
We know from experience the results of encouraging children to try something. When we say things like, “Go ahead, give it a go” and the child gives it a go, we say “Well done, at least you tried it”. The result doesn’t matter – it is the effort that is being recognised. This is the crucial difference between encouragement and praise.
Praise, on the other hand, is intended to raise self-esteem but often has the opposite effect. Praise can create ‘praise junkies’, that is, children who depend on other people to feel good about themselves. Without praise, a child might think they are not good enough.
There can be unintended results from some forms of praise that can have far reaching effects on confidence and self-esteem. The type of praise that can create problems is evaluative praise, that which evaluates a person, or a child.
Praise is often given from ‘one who knows’ to ‘one who doesn’t know’, e.g., “you set the table very nicely” (judging the way it was done = praise) instead of “I saw how careful you were with the glasses” or “thanks for your help” (observing the effort = encouragement). Praise comes from the superior position of a parent or a teacher, to what is seen as an inferior one, of child or pupil. Praise often judges a successful result but can miss the effort that was put in.
When we praise, it is our thoughts and opinions we are giving. When we encourage, we are motivating others to think for themselves and to approve of themselves, not depending on others for approval.
Encouragement accepts imperfections and likes people to keep trying.
Encouragement puts the courage into children to just try, because it only focusses on effort. It accepts the child as they are. Encouragement allows for mistakes as part of the learning. It also knows that a child wants to belong and be accepted into society, that as parents we do not need to make them comply. Simply by using encouragement, and other positive parenting techniques children will adapt and conform because it is in their own interest.
Top Tips: Differences between encouragement and praise
An attitude of belief in the child: “I believe in you. I believe you can do it”
Addresses the effort: “Well done, good effort”
Emphasizes effort and improvement: “I saw how careful you were doing that job!”
May be given during a task: “I see you are trying your best!”
Shows acceptance: “Thank You!”
Fosters independence: “You tried, and that is fine!”
Allows self-evaluation: “What do you think?”
Creates self-esteem and self-confidence: “How do you think it went?” “Are you happy with how you did?”
A verbal reward for the child: “You are a great boy, you did it!”
Centred on the person: “Good Girl for doing that”
Creates superior/inferior mentality: “You are the best!”
Job must be well done/completed: “Perfect!” “You did it!”
Is judgmental: “It’s spotless!”
Fosters dependence: “You did a good job but it could be better. Here, I’ll show you!”
Emphasizes other people’s opinions: “I think you are right/wrong”
Develops self-consciousness and dependence on other’s opinion: “What do other people think of me?”
This article was contributed by Ballyhoura Development, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.