All Articles Parenting 101: Back to Basics

The Difference Between Praise and Encouragement

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Praise

Praise doesn’t sound like a bad word.  In fact it is a great word.  It’s all through the Bible like in 2 Samuel 22:50:  “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the nations, and I will sing praises to Your name.”  That’s good stuff.  But that is not the type of praise that we are talking about here.  Praise of children as distinguished from encouragement can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Praise focuses on the outcome rather than the effort.  “You look so pretty in that outfit.”
  • Praise is often more about the feelings of the one giving the praise than the one receiving it.  “You make me so proud!”
  • Praise is non-specific. “You’re the best!” or “Good job!”
  • Praise is often exaggerated for effect.  “You are the best artist I have ever seen!”

Truth is, there are no praise police.  No one is going to give you a citation if you use one of these exclamations above.  We don’t need to get crazy, trying to avoid praise at all cost.  However, I do think it will help if we think of praise like junk food.  A bag of chips once in a while isn’t going to kill you, but a steady diet of candy and soda is going to do some damage.  Giving your child a “Good job!” once in a while won’t hurt, but if that is all he hears, you may create a problem.

Why praise is bad.  Psychologists have coined a term called locus of control.  There are two types of locus of control, internal and external.  People who have an internal locus of control are less influenced by the prevailing mindset of those around them.  Their decisions are made based on their values, perceptions and convictions and they feel a certain sense of control over their lives.  People with an external locus of control, on the other hand, are highly dependent upon others and feel most events are outside of their control.  Providing your child with a steady diet of praise can lead to an external locus of control.  Encouragement helps develop an internal locus of control.

Encouragement

So what is encouragement?  1 Thessalonians 5:11 gives us a clue:  “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  Encouragement builds others up.  This is because encouragement is solid and strong, just like the components of a safe and secure building.  Here are some characteristics of encouragement:

  • Encouragement is specific.  “You colored that entire picture in using almost every color in your crayon box.  You worked on it for almost an hour.”
  • Encouragement is focused on the child’s feelings, not the adult’s. “You seem so proud of yourself!  You didn’t think you could finish in time, but you did!”
  • Encouragement focuses on the effort, not the outcome.  “I could see that you were really concentrating.  You stayed focused even though there were many distractions.”
  • Encouragement is based in reality.  “You have come a long way.  You weren’t able to throw the ball that far in the past.”
Did you notice that it takes more words to encourage a child rather than praise?  I think one of the reasons we rely on praise so much is that it is easier.  It doesn’t require much thought on our part. Often we don’t even have to look up from what were are doing.  But praise will never nourish or build up our children the way encouragement can.

Try to build your children up today with your words. Give them a steady diet of encouragement so they can grow up confident and strong.

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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