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Encouragement or Praise – Which is Better?

by Vidya Sury May 31, 2013 29 comments

“Encouragement or Praise – which is better?” is the title of my latest post on Parentous.

I was scheduled to publish a post yesterday.  I was sorting through ideas in my mind on May 26 when the phone rang. It was Vidur’s classmate calling to tell him that their 10th-grade exam results were out! We stumbled over each other, rushing to the computer to log in to see how Vidur had fared. Now, Grade 10 is a major milestone.

While we really had no doubt as far as performance was concerned, Vidur was a bit anxious because he was sick during the exams. We were excited to see that he had scored Grade A1 in all the subjects and a CGPA of 10 out of 10. Great going, indeed!

Encouragement or Praise

“Death By Chocolate”

Of course, I burst into tears and Vidur hugged me, telling me that it was our encouragement that always helped him. What a beautiful thing to say! I also realized in my mind, that I was quick to encourage – and slightly slower when it came to praising.

And that is how the topic for my parenting post came about.

As it happened, even as we reveled in the good news, the doorbell rang. Guests. So – naturally it had to be party time. Sury quickly went and got sweets and we – all 12 of us – comprising of three generations – settled down to a healthy debate about which was better.

One of the grandparents calmly said that encouragement was more important than actual praise. While some disagreed and argued actively, I found myself thinking that she had a point. After all, unless we encourage, how will a child reach the point where he/she is eligible for praise?

Isn’t the journey a learning experience that needs encouragement to arrive at the destination – an achievement worth praising?

And so the conversation went on and on. As I watched and thought back, my own Grandmother’s words ringing in my ears about encouraging more and praising less, I wondered – did we praise too much? Too little? More important – did we encourage enough?

I was relieved to find that we did. Praise is great, but too much can be a problem as the child could get used to it to the point where it doesn’t matter. While praise is a great way to help children develop self-esteem, constant praise results in the child expecting it for every little thing. Then what is the point?

I was glad to realize that while we encouraged our son, we were honest about our feelings, allowing understanding, appreciation, and respect to develop between us. While we did make parenting mistakes (who doesn’t!), I think we were fast learners when we saw the outcome of our follies. We would not dream of saying something was okay when it wasn’t.

Today, when I think that the continuous encouragement has turned him into a responsible individual who is self-motivated, I feel blessed.

So what did we learn?

  • Encouragement is about the journey and praise is about the destination
  • Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. It is important to acknowledge the effort, allowing mistakes in the learning process without being obsessed with the outcome. Encouraging them to do better next time makes the process enjoyable
  • When we encourage, we’re focusing on effort, participation, and delight in the process even as the child builds her confidence levels.
  • Honest feedback expressed in a positive way is a part of encouragement
  • It takes skill to encourage and thankfully, it is a skill that can be developed
  • Encouragement must be ongoing in order to help children reach their goals successfully
  • It is important to allow children to experience a certain amount of worry yet maintain their belief in themselves
  • Encouragement is about recognizing children for what they are rather than what they are expected to be

Along the way, we learned to encourage:

  • Through empathy – acknowledging our son’s anxieties about coping with something
  • By having faith in him
  • By recognizing the hard work as he grapples with something, even if he didn’t reach the desired outcome
  • By noticing improvement in the things that challenged him, ensuring that expectations were realistic
  • By seeing the positive side rather than harping on faults
  • By teaching the value of discipline
  • With patience. Big doses.
  • By celebrating his plus points
  • Complimenting when due

Oh yes. We do praise. Except we’ve learned to control ourselves from overdoing it. We prefer to encourage because that is what compassionate parenting is all about. Because that propels him forward with a good attitude, self-confidence, and most of all, self-esteem.

So, encouragement or praise?

By definition, praise is an “expression of approval, commendation, or admiration.” while encouragement is to “inspire with hope, courage, or confidence”.

When you want children to develop a healthy self esteem , celebrate and acknowledge their efforts, but do not praise them . Dr Louise Porter.

When it is a question of encouragement or praise – encouragement is the answer, most of the time. My logic for this is: encouragement is about the journey and praise is about the destination. Continuous encouragement (through the process) enables a child to achieve the desired outcome – which then deserves praise, depending on what it is. Point is, whether we praise or not, encouragement is a non-negotiable – a must-do!.

I believe in positive parenting and one of the things I’ve realized is: parenting is a life-long learning process. Sometimes a tough situation has the solution hidden in it, if only we’d see the big picture. Sometimes it is so easy to miss the forest as we focus on the trees! I consider myself very blessed to enjoy a wonderful relationship with my son.

Children need encouragement like plants need water

Encouragement, not praise helps a child builds self-esteem. And self-esteem grows only when a child receives honest feedback that lets her see her capabilities in their true light, enabling her set realistic goals; not when we hear the words “great job!” Only encouragement allows the child to see this point of view.  Some ways to do this are:

  • Be specific rather than general while giving feedback. Highlight the plus points.
  • Focus on the process, not the outcome.
  • Be honest. Children know when you are paying lip service.
  • Don’t compare with others
  • If offering critique, do it in private
  • Acknowledge both successes AND failures – both are equally important

 A word of encouragement during failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success

What do you think is more important – encouragement or praise? Why?

Would love to hear your views.

Also read How To Cope with Teen Depression – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment – How Parents Can Help

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29 comments

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29 comments

Carole Remy May 31, 2013 at 3:33 am

Hi Vidya,

This post is important for teachers as well as for parents. The most dramatic example for me was as a journalism teacher. I learned that the best results came from highlighting the best sentence(s) in a student’s writing, and saying “Give me more like this.” No critique at all. For the first two weeks, the grammar critic went to sleep, and the end result was award-winning articles from nearly every student.

We succeed by knowing what success looks like. That’s what encouragement gives.

Thank you for a wonderful post, as always!

Carole
Carole Remy recently posted…Developing Your Voice: Novel Writers Workshop #TBSU

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm

I just love what you said about highlighting the good parts, Carole! What a wonderful thing to do! I am sure that student remembers you with a full heart. The effects will be lifelong. It is nice to sometimes let the critic take a holiday and let the good times roll 🙂 There are many times when my son does something and my first reaction is annoyance – but I’ve learned long ago to control it and find the good intention behind the action.

Thank you for your wonderful input. Great advice!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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Sebastian Aiden Daniels May 31, 2013 at 3:43 am

I would have to say that encouragement would be better. I didn’t really receive a lot of encouragement as a kid nor praise. I feel that encouragement like you said during failure is essential to a child getting through problems and facing them and overcoming them which in turn helps develop a healthy self-esteem. Whereas praise for only accomplishing makes a person develop a self that hinges on achieving things, so when the person fails they are destroyed. Failure is inevitable.

Encouragement is the way to go.

Great post Vidya and Keep up the good work. I believe in you. (Encouragement and PraisE)

: D

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Thank you, Sebastian! Encouragement definitely boosts self-esteem – I remember as a child, i received encouragement, but the praise was scarce. I recall feeling bad about it. 🙂 Over the years, I realized I benefited in many ways from being told “you can” 🙂

Hugs and thanks. Always appreciate your support!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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ushamenon May 31, 2013 at 7:35 am

Thank you Vidya for the wonderful post. First of all accept my conrats for the brilliant result of Vidur.
I fuuly agree that encouragement is any time better than praise. Encouragement builds the confidence of the child
ushamenon recently posted…A wish unfulfilled.:

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Thank you, Usha. The school just put up the list for Class 11 today and he has been accepted. Didn’t doubt it, but still – until it is in black and white, we tend to worry!

🙂 Glad you dropped by!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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OurJaipur.Com May 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Nice. . .

Have a nice day!

OurJaipur.Com recently posted…Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace)

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Thank you! 🙂
Vidya Sury recently posted…Encouraging Creativity Through Everyday Exploration

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Koyel May 31, 2013 at 4:18 pm

such a thought provoking post. i also personally feel that it is better to encourage our children than simply praise their efforts. when we encourage, we prepare them to handle unknwn situations too. we make them see the unforeseen as something exciting to happen, not just be afraid of.

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:08 pm

You are right, Koyel. When confidence builds, we feel ready to tackle most situations. Beautifully said by you! Thank you – so nice to see you here!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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Kaarina Dillabough May 31, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Praise needs to be used like spices: sprinkled. Encouragement is the main ingredient. Cheers! Kaarina
Kaarina Dillabough recently posted…Broken pieces

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:11 pm

I just wrote down what you said on a sticky to put in my diary! Beautiful! Hugs! I love how you encapsulate so much in a few words!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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Kaarina Dillabough June 3, 2013 at 10:17 pm

🙂
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Glynis Jolly May 31, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Although encouraging someone who is in the process of reaching a goal is always a good idea, I think people need praise as well once they have reached a goal. There are so many people who have done such marvelous things who really are not sure if they’ve achieved what they’ve gone after all because no one has told them what an excellent job they have done. Most people have troubles with self-confidence. By giving a little praise, they understand how worthwhile their contribution is.

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Well said, Glynis! While I feel that encouragement must be abundant, praise definitely matters from time to time. Imagine not congratulating someone on a job well done!:-) It is just that encouragement is an ongoing process – the benefits are longer lasting. Praise is like the icing and cherry on the cake!

Always love your valuable input! Thank you! Love, Vidya
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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Julia June 1, 2013 at 5:37 am

Encouragement is indeed better than praises. My son is 10 years old. I always praise him when he does well. On the other hand, when something goes wrong, I’m guilty of criticizing instead of encouraging. Many thanks for sharing.

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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Hi Julia! 🙂 I think we’re all guilty of criticizing when something goes wrong. It is natural and human. I am learning not to voice criticism spontaneously – it is better to try and find it in ourselves to encourage – nobody wants to be squashed when they’re already feeling down! 🙂 I had a good example in my Mom, who was determined to find the good part in everything!

Thanks for your comment, Julia!
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Deepa June 1, 2013 at 5:57 am

Congratulations to Vidur! From what little I know of him and you, definitely well deserved 🙂 I don’t have kids yet but reading such posts on positive parenting and how today’s generations are making an effort to stay away from the rod and instead treat their children as adults, give them credit for their own intelligence, willing to let them experience, fail, learn and step up makes me so hopeful for the children of tomorrow. PS: The check box made me smile 🙂
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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:33 pm

🙂 Thanks, Deepa! He was worried as he was sick during the exams…although we did not worry. I am glad in our house even raised voices is very rare (unless we’re singing in a high pitch ;-). I would never dream of even thinking of the rod! I find that being gentle but firm works like magic. Children are logical people and will listen..it is just that as parents, we feel under pressure and are too impatient. Most of all, children are understanding. Cushioning them all the time is not the best idea – 😀 according to Vidur, it is nice to make mistakes once in a while – because the lessons learned are never forgotten!

Thank you for coming by – 😀 yep – i felt bad about asking readers to prove they are not spammers. 😀

Hugs!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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privytrifles June 1, 2013 at 11:11 am

I completely agree with you here Vidya. Yet to become a parent but as a child have been there, done that and yesss encouragement is equally important and comparison is something we should refrain from.
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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Great point, Privy! 🙂 I think, in many ways, my own experiences define me as a parent. And boy, was I lucky to be my Mom’s daughter! 😀 Compassion is the key! Thank you!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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Suzy June 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Great post Vidya and Congrats to Vidur. I think both encouragement and praise are required. I also like Carole Remy’s idea of “give me more like this”.
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Vidya Sury June 3, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Thanks for your kind wishes, Suzy. Yes, I loved Carole’s comment!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Women Of Strength

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Fran Sorin June 1, 2013 at 1:21 pm

ViVidya-A post close to my heart. I have always felt that praise is overrated in our society- at least when my kids were growing up. I observed how parents constantly praised their children regardless of the outcome. This kind of reflexive behavior leaves a child with no sense of reality.

Encouragement on the other hand is a way of letting someone know that you believe in her…..regardless of what the situation is. If a child gets a ‘C’ in a course and you know they can do better, letting them know that you know they can improve that grade and setting up strategies to guide them is just good parenting. It gives your child a real goal to shoot for.

I hope your celebration for Vidur and your family was a beautiful one ~ a big hug- Fran
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Kajal Kapur June 4, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Its a very nice post, Vidya I agree with what Kaarina said about encouragement being the main ingredient and praise to be sprinkled. Great message!
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Meena Menon June 5, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Congragulations for tht glowing score 🙂
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Diana Pinto June 8, 2013 at 12:24 am

Thanks for sharing these great tips on parenting Vidya…..Encouragement Vs Praise…I would choose encouragement.

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Roshni June 8, 2013 at 4:37 am

Congratulations to you all, Vidya! What a marvelous achievement!
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Santanu June 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm

I think its always better to encourage than praise. But off-course after some achievement praise is also required to appreciate the work
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