As parents, we want our children to feel confident and have a sense of self-worth. We instinctively realize that these attributes are invaluable when it comes to success in school. Since we want to build our children up, we naturally praise them for theirstrengths, talents, and achievements. Yet praise purely for the sake of helping a child avoid feelings of disappointment can actually make matters worse when it comes to their academics. In fact, as parents, we should avoid constantly praising our children and, instead, provide meaningful encouragement. Is there a difference? Absolutely!
Encouragement is about acknowledging a specific task that was done well. Praise has a tendency to be general and is more about making someone feel good, not necessarily competent. This is a clear and important distinction: making a child “feel good” is temporary. Showing a child that she has demonstrated ability in a given task goes so much further. A child will eventually come to see your praise as empty and meaningless if the results are poor. Encouragement allows for challenges and mistakes, but pushes a student to learn from those challenges.
Praise is final and leaves no room for a child to continue improving. Feeling “good” is a fleeting emotion. Feeling capable is not just an emotion, its knowledge gained from completing a task successfully. If we focus on simply making our kids feel good, we’re being shortsighted. Our goal should be for our children to improve. Isn’t that what their education is all about: knowledge building upon knowledge? Encouragement allows for positive acknowledgement of a task well done and challenges a student to reach higher.
Encouragement is about showing interest. Praise is of often vague and doesn’t invite further discussion. Simply praising our kids all of the time is like sitting on the sidelines. It doesn’t show that we are truly interested or involved. If encouraging
your child means allowing mistakes to be made, then we must also get involved so that she can learn and improve. Praise says: “Great effort, you’ll do better next time.” While encouragement says: “Great effort, now let’s talk about what you could have done differently and let me show you how to it better for next time.”
The goal of meaningful encouragement is for a child to gain confidence through achievement. It isn’t about artificially pumping up her ego nor does it create an unachievable standard. It’s about giving real substance behind our support. In order to prepare our children for their years ahead in school and beyond, we must help them to gain a sense of self-worth and determination by overcoming challenges, not avoiding them.