Encouragement vs. Praise

Learning how to talk to kids is one of the most important parts in discipline. The manner on how you talk to your children teaches them how to communicate with others.

Very often we can underestimate the power of our words and as a result, miss great opportunities for clear and positive communication. 

Imagine the following scenario: You’ve submitted a report to your supervisor and she approaches you and says;

#1 “Good job! Keep up the good work!”


#2. “Thanks for getting the report done a little early. It really took the pressure off of me. Your attention to detail is wonderful and I am sure our client will like your suggestions.”

Which response would you prefer? Although both are positive, the difference is in the details. Specific feedback allows the receiver to know important information. It honors the process and allows them to understand what they’ve accomplished from your perspective. It’s a great way to show appreciation also.

Consider the following, this time with a child: Your son has just put away all of his toys with very little prompting.

#1. Good job! You’re such a good boy!


#2. You cleaned up all by yourself! You are taking such good care of your toys. I can see that you are really growing up.

The second response with all of its specifics allows the child to hear the positive behavior that is being recognized and he will be more prone to repeat it.

What do we say when our children present us their artwork? This is a great teaching moment.  I was once in a conference with a parent whose child was present. The child had markers and paper and was busily drawing. She displayed her work to mom who promptly said “Beautiful” and then resumed her conversation with me. The child started another drawing, quickly finished and displayed it again. “Very nice!” said mom. The child continued in this way and finally was just making quick swipes on the paper and showing it. Each time mom said “Wonderful.”

I could see that the mother’s intentions were to support her child’s efforts, but were they really helpful? Perhaps the issue was really about interrupting rather than responding to art work but the point is that very often this is a typical adult response.

In my years of teaching many children would share their art with me, some of which I was uncertain about the subject matter. My responses were geared toward creating a dialog instead of giving a judgment. Consider the following:

“Tell me about your work.”

“I can see how hard you worked on that.”

“I see lots of purple. I bet that’s your favorite color.”

“Tell me what you like best about your drawing.”

“It would be nice to display this work. Where should we hang it?”

“That drawing took a long time and I can see how proud you are.”

“ Should we write a story to go along with your drawing?’

Initially Encouragement can feel awkward, especially if we are used to praising. With practice and over time you will get better and more comfortable with it. I hope you’ll give it a try and watch for your child’s response. It will encourage you!

About The Author

Lois Olson

Founder of The Montessori Children's House Inc. Laramie, Wyoming Montessori Primary Certification 1973
Systematic Training for Effective Parenting facilitator certification
Thirty eight years of experience working with children ages 3-6
Twenty five years facilitating parenting groups
Ten years facilitating teacher training
B.A In Psychology

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