Encouragement and Praise…Not the Same!

Understanding the Importance of Encouragement

As parents, you hear a lot about a child’s lack of confidence & low self esteem and that somehow it is your job to instill that in your children. But many parents go about this task and actually create a selfish, unmotivated and discouraged child instead of a child that has healthy self esteem. They do this by handing out continual praise and complements for accomplishments rather than encouragement for effort.

It is imperative to understand the difference between praise and encouragement. Praise is often mistaken for encouragement and is often given when a child performs well in some activity. What can happen if praise is overused is that the child can begin to think his worth is dependent on winning, or doing well or being smart. Unconsciously, there is concern about what happens if she can no longer perform to those standards that won praise from mom and dad. There was an article about a study of elementary school children in the New Yorker that was very interesting. It found that children praised for being smart often became underachievers for fear that if they didn’t do well in some subject they would be failures.

Encouragement on the other hand is freely given to a child just for being here. Encouragement acknowledges effort not accomplishment, the process rather than the result. When a child does a painting commenting on how much they look like they enjoyed creating the picture is more self-esteem building than than saying ‘that’s the best painting you have ever done’. It does not mean you can never praise a child, it just should not be the only way to acknowledge what she does.

Encouragement is perhaps the most important component of raising well-adjusted, happy and responsible children. Misbehavior is the result of a discouraged child. Parents discourage children in many ways without realizing they are doing it. First of all a lack of patience will often cause parents to interrupt a child’s effort at dressing themselves because buttons or shoelaces are a skill they have not mastered. How many times have you seen a toddler want to help with putting away groceries, pouring milk or carrying a plate to the sink only to be told he is too small. For the concern of some spilt milk or a broken dish children are treated as if they are incapable.

Encouragement is not only avoiding discouragement by humiliation but being careful about overprotection. Sometimes it is necessary to encourage a child in playing by herself, sleep in her own bed and go to pre-school. Being self sufficient is a major task of childhood. Children have amazing courage to try new things. As parents, it is your job to be there to say ‘try again, I know you can do it’.

It is an interesting phenomenon that when a child is ready to help, parents think she is to small and discourage that, and when parents think child is old enough to help the child is no longer interested. What learning opportunities are missed. If the milk is spilt it is an opportunity to learn how to clean it up. Even very young children can set the table, put silverware in the drawer, clean a table, etc. These activities instill a sense of accomplishment and pride and also create the atmosphere of participation and contribution to the family.

There is so much to be gained by allowing your 10 year old to help you paint or repair something that requires some skill. You are saying you believe in his ability and you will be training him in how to learn. It doesn’t matter if the job turns out less than perfect because the contribution to your child’s self esteem is the goal.

Including children in the running of a household from small things like folding clothes and setting the table, can be invaluable as they grow into teenagers. When allowed to contribute as young people, children grow with a sense that they are important in the family. They are a valuable part of what makes the family work. Many parents complain of the lack of interest in the family from their teens. While some of this lack of interest is developmentally appropriate, it is also a sign that the teen does not feel a part of things and that his presence is not important or valued. Encouragement training is well-worth your time. If you would like to have more information about how to use it effectively consider an online parenting class.

This entry was posted in Parenting.

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