This post was first published in August 2009.
praise (prz), n.
1. Expression of approval, commendation, or admiration.
2. The extolling or exaltation of a deity, ruler, or hero.
3. Archaic A reason for praise; merit.
en·cour·age (n-kûrj, -kr-)
1. To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten.
2. To give support to; foster.
3. To stimulate; spur.
I believe the very definition of ‘encourage’ epitomises the roles of parenting and teaching – inspire, courage, confidence, support, foster, stimulate, spur on. Contrast this with the words defining praise – approval, admiration, exalt, extol.
Whilst there is obviously a place for each when spending time with children, the difference is that encouragement acknowledges effort, the process and celebrates success whilst praise makes a judgment and is about giving a child your approval of their actions.
Compare, “That is a beautiful painting,” with, “What bright colours you’ve chosen. What do you like most about your painting?”
It is more useful to say to the child, “Thanks for letting Joe play – it really cheered him up,” than, “You’re a nice girl.”
It is important that we try to encourage and acknowledge much more regularly than we praise;
- Practise giving your child more specific feedback.
- Encourage their efforts, acknowledging successes and failures.
- Focus encouragement on the learning process and their learning style rather than the final outcome.
You will find an excellent article from the New York Magazine about the inverse power of praise, including interesting results of recent research here: How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise By Po Bronson