Do you know the difference between ‘Encouragement & Praise’ and the BIG difference it can make to your child’s confidence?

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Rudolf Dreikurs the eminent psychiatrist and parent educator said, “A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water.” In other words, encouragement is essential to raising happy, confident, resilient children. Of course, children won’t die without encouragement, but they’ll certainly wither. They need encouragement to blossom and bloom.

Since encouragement is such an essential ingredient to raising happy children. Let’s start with the difference between praise and encouragement as it’s not always clear.

Is it Praise or Is it Encouragement?

Research by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. a professor at Columbia University, suggests that praise is not good for children !!! Dweck found that praise can hamper risk taking. Children who were praised for being clever when they accomplished a task chose easier tasks in the future. They didn’t want to risk making mistakes. It led to a fear of trying and led to a sense of mistaken ‘perfectionism’ On the other hand, children who were “encouraged” for their efforts were willing to choose more challenging tasks when given a choice.

As Dreikurs suggested , encourage the effort, not the deed. So instead of saying, “Wow! You got an A, I’m so proud of you,” try, “That’s fantastic. Congratulations! You worked so hard. You deserve it.” A subtle difference, but it will change the perception for your child.

The differences between encouragement and praise can be quite difficult to grasp and of course praise is better than not saying anything at all! We’ve all seen the look of joy on a child’s face when you praise them but pause to ponder the longer term, bigger picture. Praise is not encouraging because it teaches children to become “approval junkies” as they learn to depend on others to evaluate their worth, which is known as ‘externally referencing’. Needing approval from outside of themselves. Whereas encouragement leads to self-reflection and self-evaluation otherwise known as ‘internally referencing’ – knowing inside that they did a good job.

This is just a step back and ponder moment, as being aware is the key. Just for this week notice how you speak to your kids – do you praise them for a job well done or a success, or do you encourage them for their effort and attitude? Simply notice if your kids are becoming addicted to praise & seem to need it all the time.

We took my son Will to Barcelona to watch Chelsea play in the Nou Stadium after he had studied for his exam into his secondary school before we even knew the result, as we wanted to encourage and celebrate his tenacity and attitude to his studies.

If you’d like to try shifting from praise to encouragement press your imaginary ‘Pause Button’ in your head & think before making statements that have become a habit.

Ask yourself these questions to see if you are praising or encouraging your children:

  • Am I inspiring my children to feel encouraged or praised for what they have achieved?
  • Does my child feel dependent on me to feel encouraged or themselves?
  • Am I being respectful or patronising?
  • Am I seeing my child’s point of view or only my own?
  • Would I make this comment to a friend?
  • How can I encourage my child to feel more capable & feel good about their effort?


How to Encourage

Encouragement is helping your children develop courage. Courage to grow and develop into the people they want to be, the gift of feeling capable, the gift of resiliency, the ability to embrace & enjoy life, to be happy, contributing members of  your family & of society, and, as Dreikurs said, “To have the courage to be imperfect;” to feel free to make mistakes and to learn from them.

The successful use of encouragement within your family requires you to adopt the attitude of respect, and a genuine interest in your child’s point of view, no matter what age they are, and a desire to provide opportunities for your children to develop life skills that will lead to self-confident independence, autonomy  & interdependence.

I am one of only four global parenting ‘Autonomy Experts’ for Danone and I have written over 50 articles about ways to develop your child’s capability and competence, but by simply asking more open ended ‘Curiosity Questions’ you will encourage your children how to think instead of what to think therefore giving them a sense of choice and confidence. Also start creating opportunities for your kids to learn and make mistakes (and asking them what they learnt from the mistake)  as it shows faith in them, so they can develop faith in themselves.

Praise Encouragement
You’re such a good girl/boy. I really appreciate that you tidied up your bedroom, picked up your toys, brushed your teeth, made your bed, emptied the dishwasher etc
Well done for doing your homework. Wow – that’s brilliant that you worked it out for yourself
I’m so proud of you. You must be so proud of yourself!
I’m glad you always listen to my advice. You must feel great that you trusted your own judgement.
Never mind you got it wrong. It’s OK. We all make mistakes. What did you learn from your mistake – what could you do differently next time?
What a lovely picture                                                   Tell me more about why you choose that shade of blue for the boat …… (be genuine, and specific)

Words of Encouragement.

  1. I appreciate it so much when you…
  2. You were very brave to do that.
  3. You are really improving at…
  4. It’s OK. We all make mistakes.
  5. Thank you for…
  6. You made a good decision.
  7. You worked really hard on that!
  8. You are very good at…
  9. What do you think about…?
  10. You handled that very well.
  11. Now you’re getting the hang of it!
  12. You are an excellent helper.
  13. That’s your best effort yet!
  14. You really used your imagination on that project.
  15. I trust you.
  16. I love how you always do your best.
  17. Your efforts are paying off.
  18. That was so kind of you!
  19. You figured it out.
  20. .I can tell you’ve been practicing.
  21. You could really help me with this.
  22. You are such a good friend to…
  23. Good thinking!


I’d LOVE to hear your stories

Remember it’s all in your tone of voice, body language and intention so relax, have fun and enjoy playing with this new way to encourage, not praise your children and I’d love to hear your stories.


Read more here:

B.L. Bettner and A. Lew (1989, 2005), Raising Kids Who Can, Newton Centre, MA: Connexions Press.

Dr. Rudoph Dreikers Children: The Challenge” (Plume)

Alfred Adler Individual Psychology Harper Collins

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