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  • Sarah E. Carlson, PhD, LPC-S, RPT, RYT-200

Building self esteem: The difference between praise and encouragement

As parents and adults, praise is a things that comes naturally in our realtionships with our children. We want them to feel smart and beautiful, but by only focusing on the praise (ex. You are so smart), are we teaching them to depend on others for value? Praise focuses on the product or the end result, while encouragement focuses on the effort. Instead of focusing on how pretty the artwork is, focus on the effort the child made. Encouraging helps children learn that, even if they are not the best or brightest, their efforts and hard work are most important. Examples of encouragment phrases to implement are as follows:

“You did it!"

"You got it"

"You really worked hard on that"

"You didn’t give up until you figured it out."

"You've got a plan"

"You did that all by yourself"

Praise is important, too, but we want to have a balance. By teaching children that effort and hard work is important, we are all teaching them that what they think about something is important, too. When your child asks about their picture, you can say "What do you think" or "You worked really hard on that". By returning the responsibility back to the child, we teach them their evaluation is important, then we can respond "You really like it. I do too".

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discussed praise and encouragement in their book "Nurture Shock". The following video is an interview with Bronson that describes the research findings and how to reduce the tendency to be a "praise junkie".

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