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02 October 2006

Encouragement vs. Praise

Encouragement vs. Praise

The differences between encouragement and praise have become more widely noted in recent years, and studies have shown there is a long-lasting effect of each/ This article contains examples and information to expand your understanding of the topic, why encouragement is more helpful, and how to put it into practice in your homes.
It is human nature to want to be supportive of those we love. Naturally, that is also true of the parent-child relationship. Many studies have shown that children who receive encouragement during the formative years are more successful later in life. However, there is a growing amount of research indicating that consistent praise can be harmful. (

If we always reward a child with praise after a task is completed, then the child comes to expect it. However, if praise is not forthcoming, then its absence may be interpreted by the child as failure. (Aldort, 2000). In an effort to find a balance, many clinicians have begun to encourage children in lieu of providing praise.

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. While one has to think more, it may be better to use “descriptive recognition,” giving a more precise description of what you wish to encourage, rather than praising.

Here are some specific examples of the differences between the two:

Praise Encouragement
You are the best student. Any teacher would appreciate you.
You are always on time. You tried very hard to be on time.
You did great! You did it!
I am so proud of you. You should be proud of yourself.
You’re a good helper. You straightened all the bookshelves.
Your picture is so pretty. You used all those different colors.

Here is another table indicating the common results of praise and encouragement:

Praise Encouragement
stimulates rivalry and competition stimulates cooperation and contribution for the good of all
focuses on quality of performance focuses on amount of effort and joy
evaluative and judgmental; person feels “judged” little or no evaluation of person or act; person feels “accepted”
fosters selfishness at the expense of others fosters self-interest, which does not hurt others
emphasis on global evaluation of the person-“You are better than others.” emphasis on specific contributions -“You have helped in this way.”
creates quitters creates triers
fosters fear of failure fosters acceptance of being imperfect
fosters dependence fosters self-sufficiency and independence

This is certainly a challenge, when it is so easy to say “Good job!” and mean it. However, if we can become encouragers, it not only benefits the children who are quickly growing into adults, but us too.

Information taken from

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    I found a couple of your articles. This one would be a great short training for parents and paraprofessionals.


    • jeff

      She’s a hot looking counselor too..hubba hubba

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  • Brooke

    I am wondering what’s been spoken of using both? I tend to use both praise and encouragement. The examples listed above showed me I definitely lean towards encouragement without even knowing it. But there is certainly praise found throughout a conversation I am having with children.
    I am a teacher at a child care facility and would be curious to see if using both was rendering one or the other ineffective because children tend to hear the first or last thing you say.

  • Dee Trimble

    I am a retired teacher who, late in my career, began using encouragement over praise approximately 70% to 30% respectively. It worked wonders in improving the environment in my special education class of emotionally challenged students.

    I have a problem with the way encouragement vs praise is presented in almost all situations. It seems changing the wording but still making a judgement call is the order of the day! I submit that ANY TIME the word “you” or “I” is used to try to encourage someone that this is STILL praise because the person saying it is still the one judging the effort or quality of what is being done by another.

    My classroom aide had been with me many years when we began our efforts to encouraging students. As we worked together to implement this change we hit upon three phrases that took ALL the judgement out of the teacher’s mouth and put the judgement in the cognitive portion of the brain of the person receiving the phrase. These phrases are: 1) looks like…2) seems like… 3) it appears…

    “It looks like you are trying hard to get your math completed!”

    “It seems like are really paying attention to your reading assignment!”

    “It appears that you studied hard because you got a 100% on your spelling test!”

    These statements make it clear that whomever is receiving them is going to have to judge for themselves if the statement is in fact true or not, unlike statements like:d

    “You did your best and didn’t give up.”. Did they, in fact, do the best they could?
    Who should make this call?

    “You must be proud of yourself.” Are they really proud? Who should decide this?

    “I have faith in you.” Why does this person’s faith matter? Who should have faith in themselves?

    These statements come right out of the Montessori Philosophy: Praise vs. Encouragement web page. Montessori is not the only one doing these shifts in wording. I found the same results in all the sites I visited.

    It is not easy to make the switch to encouragement! My aide and I worked on it diligently for several months before we turned the corner. You don’t have to worry that you don’t give any praise because it creeps quite often. Old habits die hard!

    I welcome feedback!

    • Carrie

      thanks for the easy to remember phrases… I have a 19 month old lil girl with special needs and am always wondering the best way to encourage her… great advice!

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  • Author

    It’s really a cool and useful piece of info. I am happy that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Maia Couch

      I think the point is that the words “great” and “good” are opinions. So when you say those words to the child you are teaching them that the goal is to please you. But really, that isn’t the goal because you want them to behave even when you aren’t around. I suggest that instead of saying they’ve done a good job, tell them why what they did was good.

      So instead of “Great job picking up those books.” You might say, “You picked up all those books! That took a lot of focus and you did it!”

      Another thing is sometimes a child will try very hard but still not do “good” because the task is very difficult. You don’t want the child to become upset and frustrated because they didn’t do a good job. You want them to be proud of themselves because they tried as hard as they could. When you tell them they did a good job, that will make them feel upset when they confront more difficult tasks that they simply cannot do a good job on.

      Keep in mind though, I’m not a parent I just do occasionally child care and have an interest in psychology. I simply responded because it didn’t seem like you got a response from the author of the post.

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  • Exsugarbae

    Thanks for this, I have a child who is bright, but hates school, his teachers praised tiny bits of good behavior and his made him worse, I noticed I had to praise him very carefully. I think he was made to feel like an over stroked,helpless kitten because it was all about pleasing teacher not becoming more independent and mastering something really well. Never tell a child they are better than other kids, they will always be disappointed and think you are a liar, it’s close to child abuse.