Praise vs. Encouragement

Praise vs. Encouragement

Praise and encouragement. We hear these words used synonymously so often that you might think they are the same thing. Both make our kids feel good, right?

Interestingly, they are very different! Medical doctor and psychotherapist, Alfred Adler, differentiated the two when developing his parenting theories in the early 20th century. He (and others) found that encouragement is actually far more beneficial in child rearing than any other aspect. Here’s the breakdown of how they are different:

  • Encouragement instills confidence and builds courage to try again after failure. It focuses on the deed rather than the doer.
  • Praise creates a child that is externally motivated and focused on what others think. It’s focus is on the doer instead of the deed.

Praise and encouragement are both positive, but encouragement leads to greater long-term gain. Praise tends to lead to conformity. Praising children teaches them to do things for the approval of others, which creates dependency on other people. Alternatively, encouragement recognizes the effort, which stimulates courage and an understanding of what the child learned. This allows them to feel worthy without approval from others, which leads to self-confidence and self-reliance. Encouragement cultivates a growth mentality.

Here are some examples:



“You are a good cleaner!”“I appreciated your help with clean up yesterday.
“You are so cute.”“I like how you tried a new hairstyle today.”
“You are the smartest kid in your class.”“You try very hard and we are proud of all of your effort.”
“You’re a good girl.”“You listened well and I appreciate that.”
“You’ll get it right.” “Look how far you’ve come!”
“You know how to make me happy.”“I love you no matter what.”


We now recognize that praise does not equal encouragement. So how do you intentionally encourage rather than making a quick praise? Try shifting your focus. Make specific observations about your child’s behavior or attitude. Instead of “You are so smart.” try, “You studied hard for that A.”

We want our children to learn how to think, not what to think. When we focus on their effort, they learn that they have the ability to change their circumstances through learning and determination. Taking a little extra effort in how you encourage now reaps tremendous benefits for your child’s self-reliance and resilience.

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