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 both parent and teacher – to 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 the celebration of 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?”
Is it not 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. We can do this simply by;
- Making a point of giving more specific feedback,
- Encourage effort, acknowledging success and failure,
- Focusing encouragement on the learning process and the child’s learning style.
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.