There’s a difference? Yes, although it may seem slight it yields very different results. Many of us, especially those of us that keep up with the latest and greatest in the world of parenting and education, probably say things like “good job” or “you’re such a good girl” for every little thing our child does. We read or hear things such as “focus on the behavior you want your child to demonstrate” and “praise them when they are doing what they want.” We are trying to build their confidence and self-esteem right? Our children’s success depends on this.
Praise is defined “to express a favorable judgment.” When we praise our children (both at home and in the classroom) and say things like “good job” or “thanks for listening to me,” we create an environment where the child is motivated by the standards of somebody else. Their work or actions are now driven by the approval of the adult. By constantly praising our children they are relying on adult/authority figure feedback to determine the worth and value of their contributions.
Encourage is defined “to inspire with confidence, stimulate, foster.” It is free of judgment or conditions. If we use phrases such as “You did it” and “You were frustrated but you kept trying and now it works” and “I appreciate you helping me,” we are now allowing the child to feel empowered. It creates an environment that is fueled by intrinsic motivation and fosters independence. More importantly it allows children to take risks and try again without the pressure to disappoint.
This a difficult shift to make as it seems unnatural when you first try saying words of encouragement rather than praise. We have to ultimately retrain ourselves to speak this way. This is not to say we shouldn’t praise, just keep it limited. The easiest way that I have found to remember what to say is by just saying what you see. For example, if a child is painting you may comment “There is a lot of blue in your painting.” If a child shares a toy with another child, you may say “she is so happy that you shared with her.”
Easier said than done, but worth the conscious effort!