Rudolf Dreikurs taught, “A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water.” In other words, encouragement is essential. Children may not die without encouragement, but they certainly wither.
Since encouragement is so essential, it would be good for parents to know what encouragement means and how to do it. Let’s start with the difference between praise and encouragement. It would be helpful to download the file "Differences Between Praise and Encouragement".
Is it Praise or Encouragement?
Research by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. a professor at Stanford University, has now proven what Adler taught years ago. Praise is not good for children. Dweck found that praise can hamper risk taking. Children who were praised for being smart when they accomplished a task chose easier tasks in the future. They didn’t want to risk making mistakes. On the other hand, children who were “encouraged” for their efforts were willing to choose more challenging tasks when given a choice.
As Dreikurs said, “Encourage the deed [or effort], not the doer.” In other words, instead of, “You got an A, I’m so proud of you,” try, “Congratulations! You worked hard. You deserve it.” A subtle difference, but it will change the perception of your child.
The differences between encouragement and praise can be difficult to grasp for those who believe in praise and have seen immediate results. They have seen children respond to praise with beaming faces. However, they don’t think about the long-term effects. Praise is not encouraging because it teaches children to become “approval junkies.” They learn to depend on others to evaluate their worth. Encouragement leads to self reflection and self evaluation.
Now let's get back to the fact that children like praise. (So do I.) Praise is a like candy. A little can be very satisfying. Too much can cause problems. Awareness is the key. Notice if your kids are becoming addicted to praise—need it all the time.
Those who want to change from praise to encouragement may find it awkward to stop and think before making statements that have become habitual. It will help to keep the following questions in mind when wondering whether the statements you make to children are praise or encouragement:
- Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
- Am I being respectful or patronizing?
- Am I seeing the child’s point of view or only my own?
- Would I make this comment to a friend?
I have found the last question especially helpful. The comments we make to friends usually fit the criteria for encouragement.
How to Encourage
Encouragement is helping your children develop courage—courage to grow and develop into the people they want to be, to feel capable, to be resilient, to enjoy life, to be happy, contributing members of society, and, as Dreikurs said, “To have the courage to be imperfect;” to feel free to make mistakes and to learn from them.
Positive Discipline tools such as the following are designed to be encouraging to children:
- Family Meetings where children learn to give and receive compliments and learn to brainstorm for solutions to problems.
- Curiosity Questions to invite children how to think instead of what to think—and to give them a sense of choice to use their personal power for social responsibility.
- Letting Go so children have opportunities to learn and grow—mistakes and all.
- Show Faith in children so they can develop faith in themselves.
- Spending Special Time to make sure the message of love gets through.
The successful use of encouragement requires adult attitudes of respect, interest in the child’s point of view, and a desire to provide opportunities for children to develop life skills that will lead to self-confident independence from the negative opinions of others.