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Praise Versus Encouragement: What’s The Difference?

“If a child has been told she is a genius, she may decide there is no way she can live up to that expectation. She may be afraid to try new things for fear of failing and disappointing parents and teachers.”~Guidance and Behavior Management

Praise and encouragement can have different effects on young children and their development. By understanding the difference, we can be more supportive to their growth.

The Kid Counselor puts it this way,

One of the main differences between praise and encouragement is that praise often comes paired with a judgment or evaluation, such as “best” or “good”. Evaluative praise creates anxiety, invites dependency, and evokes defensiveness. It is non-conducive to self-reliance, self-direction and self-control (Ginott, 1965). Encouragement, on the other hand, allows children to become self-motivated, faithful to themselves, and focused on following their own interests (Grille, 2005).

While praise has long been recommended as an effective tool for parents to build self-esteem in their children, it has become somewhat counter-productive as children learn to “perform” for what they think others expect of them, rather than for their own satisfaction.

Although praising others has become second nature to most of us, learning to encourage forms bonds, understanding and acceptance that is needed for healthy and happy children. ~TheKidCounselor

Praise Versus Encouragement An Illustrative Story

Still, it can be hard to tell the difference at times. Here is a story to illustrate the difference via PBS Parents

A child comes home from school with an A on her English test.
Parent says, “Good job, you are so smart, let’s put it on the fridge!”
A few weeks later the same child comes home with a D on her science test.
How would the parent respond to this child? “We have a problem. We have to fix this. Maybe we should hire a tutor. What were you thinking? I know you can do better.”

…In an encouraging household, the same scenario might look something like this:

Parent observes and asks questions. “You got an A on your test. Tell me about that. Was it easy? Did you do anything differently? What do you know now that you did not before? How is your relationship with the teacher? What does he do that works well for you? What have you done to overcome any challenges you met? Is this subject interesting to you?”

Or something like, “Wow, you got a D. Tell me about that. What do you think happened? Did you study? Is this the grade you deserved? What would you do differently? Do you know anything new? What do you know about the teacher’s style or your learning style?”

Can you see that the latter takes a more open approach and allows the child to self-evaluate?

Positive Parenting Connection has some more examples:

Praise sounds like…

  • “Good girl!”
  • “You are so smart.”
  • “You are such a pretty little girl!”
  • “You are strong and handsome.”
  • “You are an amazing athlete!”
  • “You are so good at sharing.”
  • “You are super good at math.”

Encouragement: What Children Need To Grow Confident and Capable

What CAN we do to encourage children without using evaluative praise?

Describing what you see rather than praising is essential for our children to grow intrinsically motivated and to feel authentically affirmed. Here’s how that can look:

  • “You chose the red frilly dress! And you buttoned all those buttons by yourself. That took a lot of work.”
  • “Wow. That took a lot of brain work to come home with 100% on your assignment. I bet you feel really good about how your hard work paid off.”
  • “Look how strong your muscles can be! What effort it takes to carry the bag all the way up the stairs. I appreciate your help.”
  • “What a commitment you’ve had to your training. I can see how happy you are to make the team at school!”
  • “Math can be hard! Look at all the problems you’ve accomplished. You’ve concentrated on this for a long time.”
  • “Your friend is happy you shared your toy! What a kind thing to do.”
  • “It takes a lot of courage to climb up so high. When you are ready, you can give it a go.”

Encouragement focuses more on the qualities we want to help children develop. Making the switch from praise to encouragement takes a bit of time and effort. But, think about the impact long-term…

It makes your job as a parent easier as your child can now rally through struggles more successfully, can call upon their own selves to solve something, can make healthier choices with peers, and feel truly competent and capable. ~PositiveParentingConnection

What do you think about this topic?


Freelance Blogger at
Lori Hil is a freelance blogger and content curator with an AAS in Early Childhood Education. She now gets to combine her love of writing and teaching through the written word. You can find her all around the web, but especially enjoying the freelance life at
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