Praise vs. Encouragement

“Good job!” “Nice work!” “You’re so smart!” “This is beautiful!” We have all heard a comment of this sort at some point in our lives, even if we are not the next Pablo Picasso or Alfred Einstein. Phrases like these can make us feel extremely validated in our work and add a pep to our step. However, these phrases can backfire on us in a monumental way and, unfortunately, not a lot of people know about this hidden consequence. Well, have no fear! Today’s post is all about the differences between praise and encouragement!

What is Praise?

According to Merriam Webster, praise is defined as, “to express a favorable judgement of: commend.” If you have not yet sniffed out the problem, I will highlight it for you. When we praise a child, there is a form of judgement. We are subliminally saying that they will only receive this kind of recognition if the work is done at this level. 

For example, let us say that your child has brought you their masterpiece: a macaroni art picture. Let us also say they decided to bring you this masterpiece in the middle of you making dinner with a baby crying in the background. In other words, things are a tad chaotic. You’re child awaits the magic words of praise, but instead they get a half-hearted, “That’s cool, sweetie.” Keep in mind, your child is accustomed to hearing, “That’s amazing!” They are now hearing something far less pleasing and immediately begin to question their ability and skills. Why is this art not amazing? Why is this art not beautiful? What did I do wrong? I have failed this masterpiece, so I must try again. The child will then compete with themselves to finally receive the praise they are accustomed to receiving. In other words, we have successfully created a sense of dependency within our child: I am loved/worthy/successful if I hear praise and conversely, I am not loved/worthy/successful if I do not hear praise.

What is Encouragement?

At this point in the post, you make be asking yourself, “Ok Krista, how do I hype up my amazing child without creating this dependency? I thought I was doing the right thing!” No worries, I got you! First and foremost, you are not doing the wrong thing; you are simply doing a positive thing a bit too much. Getting acceptance and approval from our family and friends is part of the human experience. However, children are sponges and the manner in which we commend them can create a major impact in their motivations. We want are children to be self-motivated and self-sufficient as adults, not reliant on the praise of others.

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of encourage is, “to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope.” We can immediate see the difference between praise and encouragement within these definitions, but how does that translate to reality? When we look at encouraging our children, we want them to identify the feelings within themselves that they are proud of. Children who are internally motivated will be able to accomplish their goals without any rewards or incentives because they are simply proud of the act of completion.

Encouraging phrases focus on the effort or persistence of the child, ask questions or comment on observations, and cause the child to reflect on their actions and accomplishments. Some examples of encouraging phrases are:

  • I can tell you worked really hard on that drawing!
  • All that hard work seems to have paid off! Are you proud of yourself for scoring that goal?
  • You were studying a lot for your math test. Do you think that is what helped you do well on the test?
  • You did it all by yourself!
  • You should feel proud of yourself!

It may seem silly at first, but these changes can make a huge difference in the way your child views themselves and how they perceive goal-setting in the future. And no, it is not the end of the world if praises slip out from time to time. It is a hard habit to break. If you have more questions on the differences between praise and encouragement, please call us at (832) 352-1600 or contact us here! I encourage parents to encourage their kids!

Posted in
Krista Bassani, LPC

Krista Bassani, LPC

Scroll to Top