January 20, 2010

Praise vs. Encouragement

We praise children because we want to acknowledge their efforts and build their self-esteem. If we constantly praise a child he will learn to expect it whenever he completes a task regardless of the effort that he put into that task. Over time that child may learn to seek praise not for his own self-satisfaction but to please others.

Comments of praise we often say to children may include, "You're the smartest kid in your class!" "That's the most wonderful painting I have ever seen!" "You're such a good girl!"

Sometimes our praise can be seen as an evaluation. Especially when we use words such as "best," "wonderful," or "perfect." If you often praise your child with these words how will your child feel the day he makes a mistake and isn't perfect? Will he feel ashamed and guilty that he didn't meet your expectations? Will he try to blame his mistake on someone else so he won't be at fault? Will he be discouraged and not try as hard the next time because he doesn't want to be seen as less than perfect?

Encouragement on the other hand focuses on effort not the end results. Instead of praising your child with "That picture is so pretty!" you could encourage your child by saying, "You used lots of colors," or "You really enjoy painting." If your child received the highest grade in her class on her math test you could offer encouragement by saying, "You got a high score because you studied before the test."

However, if your child didn't study for her math test and received a low grade, you might be tempted to shame your child and say, "That's what happens when you don't study." or "I'm disappointed in you." Instead you could say, "I wonder what you need to do to get a better score on the next test?" This will encourage your child to figure out a strategy as well as motivate her to try harder instead of giving up.

Take a closer look at the messages you are sending to your child by the words you use. Are you praising or are you encouraging?

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