Encourage To Flourish
Encouragement Vs Praise
What’s the difference? you may be asking yourself. It’s subtle, to be sure, and most of us never really gave it much thought. In a nutshell, here it is: praise is a reward given for a job well done, but encouragement is given for effort and attempts, as well as success. Praise focuses on the doer (“Good girl”) and encouragement focuses on the deed (“Good job.”) While it may seem as though I’m splitting hairs, it’s actually an important distinction to make. We don’t want our kids to grow up feeling as though they only matter when they are behaving / achieving / succeeding. But our language may suggest to them that we really do feel that way.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that your child is on the soccer team, and during a critical moment in the game, scores a goal. If you praise your child, you might say, “I was so proud when you scored that goal.” That doesn’t seem like something that would send a child rushing off to meet with his analyst, but compare it to an encouraging phrase: “You’ve worked so hard and I hope you’re proud of how your soccer skills have really improved this year.” The praise phrase is really all about the parent and how she feels. And while praise in small doses is certainly not a bad thing – after all, we all like to hear how our actions bring others happiness – constantly relying on it can lead a child to believe that he doesn’t really matter unless someone is recognizing and complimenting him, that his self-worth is measured by other’s opinions and standards. Praise can be seen as controlling and manipulative, too, used as a tool to get our children to behave the way we want them to. By tying our child’s worth into her performance, we set her up to see herself as a failure every time she doesn’t succeed to her (or our) expectations.
On the other hand, you don’t need to succeed to receive encouragement. It builds inner strength and confidence, even in the face of obstacles that might seem too daunting to overcome. Encouragement recognizes that a person’s value and their actions are two separate things. It allows kids to feel ownership of their own victories, and mistakes for that matter, and to feel a growing sense of competence when it comes to tackling new challenges.
Rudolph Dreikurs, a proponent of democratic parenting, describes it this way in his book Children: The Challenge: a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. The way to help a discouraged child is not to praise him, but to encourage him. Encouragement helps children develop the courage to be imperfect and to try anyway.
It is so important when fostering a child’s self esteem to separate the deed from the doer. Children are not their actions, and their value to us is not dependent on what they do.