Google+ Authentic Parenting: Praise vs. Encouragement: Which one Wins At Your House?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Praise vs. Encouragement: Which one Wins At Your House?

There is a lot of information in the parenting literature about praise and encouragement. Praise when overdone, can be detrimental and lead to de-motivated children. Encouragement on the other hand can be very helpful to growing minds. Changing the script from praise to words of encouragement is not necessarily easy but it can make a world of difference for children's self esteem and motivation.

Maxi and I were tossing a football in the playroom a few days ago. I realized it had been by far one of the most fun times we had ever tossed the ball together – he had stayed relaxed and engaged, interested and really talkative the entire time. There was no tension, no changing of rules, sudden tears or walking away. It wasn’t just because he is getting a bit older, I knew right away that re-scripting from praise to effort was working.

Praise- It’s so tempting!
As we played, I really wanted to shout ‘Wow great throw buddy” and “Well done” every time that ball flew far into the air and I had to really work to catch it.
The thing is, in the past, whenever we played football or basketball and I had freely tossed all those “good jobs” and “wows” at him, sooner than later, tears would swell up, and my ball buddy would stomp away furious. What I didn’t understand then was all my praising was building pressure and undermining his efforts.

Sure it was meant with love, but looking into this from his perspective I understood it better. How annoyed or on edge would I be if someone would follow me and throw around “Wow nice job avoiding that meltdown.” “Record time kissing that boo-boo.” Well it’s not exactly the same thing, and I’m not making light of a parents job (it’s hard work too say the least) but what I figured out is that Maxi didn’t need me to cheer him on with all these “good jobs” for every single throw. What he really wanted was someone to play with and have a good time – it was supposed to be a game, not an evaluation, which it had become, even if I had no intention of making it so.

Change – It’s so hard!
At first, I was resistant. Could it really be that bad? I was just saying something that is supposed to be so nice…doesn’t everyone like praise? Yes, a sprinkle of praise here and there is probably not all that bad, but I’ve learned in our situation that all those “wows” were leading to insecurity and keeping my son from enjoying a simple games of ball, board games, learning too read etc…

I have learned that the only thing that needs to be tossed around when we play football is the ball. With a lot of conscious effort, When the urge to say “Wow” comes to mind, I try to focus on describing or asking something instead “Did you see how the ball almost landed on the wall?” or “That ball went really far; you must have really put your arm into that throw.” Hearing “can we play some more?” and “I’ve been having fun with you mama” tell me that this is not only working, it has also opened up space for me to really listen to what Maxi has to say, which is a lot, and that is what I call a winning game.

What is winning in your family, praise or words of encouragement?

Peace & Be Well,



  1. I would say we do both at our house, not sure if one more than the other or not. I think there's a fine line, and there is some subjective interpretation as to what is "praising" vs. "encouraging." As a parent who considers myself to be pretty in tune with my children, I don't see much pressure (on themselves) or insecurity based on how I do or do not respond. I don't "great job, honey!" them for every little thing, but I also don't think praise (even lavish praise, or indiscriminate praise) is the devil. I believe it's more about the relationship you have with your child/children and what kind of conversations you have with them in general. Is "good job" one of many meaningful interactions you've had with them while playing with them and making a conscious effort to be in the moment? Or is it a knee-jerk reaction to a plea for attention from across the room, mindlessly slipped off the tongue when you didn't even look their way?

  2. Great article. When I first read Nurture Shock, I was in a bit of denial. How could praising our kids be bad? But the more I researched (my partner and interviewed the authors of NurtureShock at Parenting Chat Cafe and talked about the inverse power of praise ) and the more I experimented with my kids (kids really are our guinea pigs in the laboratory of parenting, aren't they =? :) the more I saw it was true.

    I focus on praising effort instead of results, but I still slip back into old habits on occasion.

  3. I am a big fan of unconditional parenting. I only have a 10-month old, and already I can tell that it is sooooo hard not to throw rewards out all of the time. But, I'm glad that I discovered the technique early so that I can practice now. Everything I do- whether smiling, clapping, "good-jobbing", etc. I ask "why did I do that? What was my goal??" Thanks for covering the topic. I look forward to reading any future tips!

  4. I do praise probably a bit too much and I do it with good intent but I know personally how it actually detracts from the experience and sets up insecurity and a feeling of duty to please.

    I am currently on a juice fast and my partner,though well meaning,is constantly saying how well I am doing,how much better I am looking etc and all I feel when he says these things is slightly anxious about breaking the fast lest I disappoint him and a slightly miffed feeling,like-'ok so I am looking good now,does that mean I didn't before?'.

    I can see how the same type of 'praise' would affect my boys and will really try to work on getting my good feeling across to them without taking away from their own enjoyment of acheivment.


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