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Praise Less, Encourage More

"Be an encourager. When you encourage others, you boost their self esteem, enhance their self confidence, make them work harder, lift their spirits and make them successful in their endeavors. Encouragement goes straight to the heart and is always available. Be an encourager. Always." -Roy T. Bennett

Kids soccer team in huddle with coach

The culture we currently live in offers accolades and praise to young people in the form of gold stars, blue ribbons, trophies or enthusiastic "good job" just for showing up. So much so that our children have come to expect this regardless or their effort or the outcome. Many adults have believed these practices are important to build a child's self-esteem and are harmless, but in fact, they are neither.

Studies indicate that students that rely on praise take fewer risks, because they are unwilling to lose their praise-worthy status. When children seek praise (consciously or unconsciously) they tend to avoid anything they won't get 'right': which is unfortunate because mistakes, trial and error, and risk-taking are critical elements of any learning process.

Knowing the difference between Praise and Encouragement if vital to allow us to choose wisely what we are offering.

Praise in not specific and often focuses on an outcome vs. effort.

It's a general statement and sounds like:

  1. Good Job!

  2. You're so smart.

  3. You did great!

  4. What a perfect picture.

  5. Nice hit

Encouragement tends to create more internal power.

What Encouragement Sounds like:

  1. I notice how hard you were working to figure that out.

  2. You really focused on that art project.

  3. I noticed how much effort you were putting into (this part of) your project.

  4. I noticed you wanted to give up and you didn't. How does it feel to work to persevere and have success?

  5. All that hitting practice in baseball has really paid off.

Encouragement tends to focus more on the process vs. on the outcome. Encouragement helps create momentum and internal motivation within the person on the receiving end. It has a longer shelf life and more long term power and sustainability. Praise feels good when we receive it but doesn't move the needle or have any power to support long term growth. In addition, being encouraging helps your child become thoughtful about their experience. Through encouragement we are teaching them to notice how they feel about their experience and what they are doing to contribute to that experience. This sort of budding self awareness can't be minimized as it is the foundation for deeper self empowerment.

And when we do praise children, it should be genuine: praise that is specific (i.e. "That was very kind of you to clean up your toys without being reminded") rather than generic (i.e. "You are wonderful") and praise focused on behavior (i.e. "You came up with a very creative solution") rather than the person (i.e. "You are so smart”).

Encouragement: Using words like “I notice” ….

• Recognizes and fosters continual growth and effort.

• Does not cause children to compare their achievements, or compete about who is smarter, prettier, faster, etc.

• Fosters independence - children gain a sense that their own abilities can get them what they need and want.

• Emphasizes effort, progress, and improvement rather than just results.

• Recognizes contribution rather than completion or quality over quantity.

• Promotes perseverance rather than giving up if a child doesn't initially achieve the success he expected.

• Allows children to learn about, rather than measure, themselves.

• Prepares children for real-world challenges where they will be expected to do much more than show up to earn recognition.

• Doesn't build false self-esteem (i.e. "I am so smart. I can do anything") but instead builds determination and confidence (i.e. "I have the ability to do many things if I work hard").

• Does not do for children what they can do for themselves.

On the flip side, children who have been praised for a fixed personal characteristic such as their intelligence or good looks, are confused by set-backs and view them as a personal reflection rather than a growth opportunity. In addition, children who receive stickers or a high fives for doing mundane tasks like putting their shoes on, begin to expect praise when praise isn't called for and take it personally when it doesn't come (which will inevitably happen as they age); the praise becomes more important than the achievement.



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