A Child Psychologist On Why Kids Thrive On Encouragement
“What a great job on your spellings Tom, you got every word right.” “That was a brilliant result.” Statements of praise like these may seem helpful and lead to more positive behaviour, but they have a double edge.
These statements communicate to the child that there are some arbitrary criteria in the minds of parents that must be met in order to be esteemed. Praise is external and focuses solely on the product the child has created. But praise can be false at times.
When we praise a child too much, they quickly learn that there is no meaning to it, it is empty. Some children know full well that at times they do not deserve praise. When they receive it, they get confused. Some children don’t believe they are worthy of praise so when they receive it they simply do not believe it, and it becomes increasingly annoying.
Knowing the difference between praise and encouragement is one of the most important things a parent can learn.
What is praise – what is encouragement?
Praise focuses on the person who did the job: “What a good boy today.”
Encouragement focuses on the deed, what was done: “What a good result on your spellings.”
Praise only recognises a completed product: “You did that right Tom.”
Encouragement focuses on effort and improvement: “You must have worked really hard on that project, it’s a lot more improved compared to your last time.”
Praise is a form of judgment: “I like the way you are working quietly.”
Encouragement focuses on self-direction within the child: “Thanks for sitting quietly while I was giving the directions.”
Praise causes children to do things to please others.
Encouragement causes children to do things to their highest ability.
Praise teaches children that the approval and opinion of others are more important than their belief in themselves.
Encouragement teaches children that they must reflect on the amount of effort and preparation put into completing a task.
You can even encourage failure, believe it or not. If a child brings home a bad mark from school, you can choose to either criticise, punish or encourage. You encourage by letting the child know they might not have tried hard enough or studied long enough. You can simply say, “Did you prepare enough for the project and put enough work into it?” Nine times out of ten, if the question is asked genuinely and with sensitivity, the child will give you an honest answer straight away. If they say “no” you can follow it up by saying “Well, you probably let yourself down a bit, next time work harder and prepare because we both know you are capable of better.” For example saying, “I’m proud of you for getting such a good result” robs a child of ownership of their achievement. Saying “You must have worked hard to get that result, I bet you are pleased with yourself” gives them ownership.
The long-term impact of using encouragement rather than praise is that it helps children be more self-confident and self-reliant. The power of encouragement cannot be underestimated. Use it, and you will instantly see the impact it has. Your child will stand taller, smile and be proud of him or herself, not because you value what they created but because you value the effort, time and energy they put into creating it.
David Carey, child psychologist, has over 25 years experience in both clinical and educational settings. The author of several books, he's also a regular contributor to the Moncrieff show on Newstalk 106-108FM and on TV3.