I was watching my daughter try to climb over an obstacle on the playground. She kept falling but she continued to get back up and try again. I was concerned about her falling, but also very proud of her determination. When she finally achieved her goal of getting over that obstacle, she looked at me and asked “Did you see me Mommy?!” I gave her a thumbs up and a smile. She continued to look at me and I realized she needed to hear me say something about what she had accomplished. My words would give some meaning to her achievement.
There is so much power in the words of a parent. Although there are times when praise can be encouraging, parents will be most effective if they avoid praising children too often. Praise is defined as an expression of approval, commendation, or admiration. It focuses on the person. Some examples of praise are: Good job, you rock, great, good boy/girl, you’re the best. These statements are not bad, but they keep your child dependent on external gratification, meaning they can develop a need to hear from an authority figure that they are good in order feel good. We don’t want to train our children to look to anyone outside of themselves and God to define who they are and their value. Children who are exclusively praised learn to do things not for their own sake but to please others. Praise can create “people pleasers.”
The alternative to praise to encouragement. Encouragement is defined as the action of giving someone support, confidence or hope. I’m sure you can already see the difference. When you encourage your child, you’re supporting them, building their confidence and giving them hope for their future. Encouragement focuses on effort rather than the person. It helps your child identify how they feel about their accomplishment. Through encouragement we teach our children to look inside themselves and to God for their motivation, for the answers to their questions, and for knowing their purpose and direction.
Another benefit of encouragement is that it can be used when a child is excelling or struggling. Encouragement creates children who are willing to try despite the challenge because they are not being judged or evaluated all of the time. Praise tends to be paired with words like good or bad…that’s judgment. Praise also tends to come after a child completes a task to their parent’s satisfaction. If it is not “good enough” there is no praise and perceived as a failure. Therefore exclusive praise can create a child that quits. When they are struggling, they will be more likely to quit to avoid failure or judgement.
Let’s go back to the example with my daughter. She climbed the obstacle. She achieved her goal and was looking for a reaction from me. A response of praise would be, “Good job! I’m so proud of you.” An encouraging response would be, “You did it! I saw how hard you worked. How do you feel about that?” Neither response is bad or wrong. The difference is the focus. The praise response was focused on how I felt about her accomplishment. The encouraging response focused on the process, her effort and how she felt about herself. Encouragement is a language that not many of us learn. Just like learning any other new language, it will take time and practice to become fluent.
Here are some examples of encouraging phrases
- “You seem to like that”
- “How do you feel about it”
- “I need your help on…”
- “What do you think?”
- “Thanks, that helped me a lot”
- “You can do it”
- “You’re getting better at…”
- “I like the way you…”
- “You really worked hard on that”
One last note about praise. Praise is wonderful when it is genuine; coming from a place of love and warmth and arising spontaneously from a parent’s heart. Let there be no motive behind your praise other than to tell your child how much they mean to you. That kind of praise is priceless!