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Encouragement vs. Praise: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

Kids hear a lot of both encouragement and praise in their daily lives. “Way to go!” or “Good job!” are often said by parents, teachers, and other caring adults. But can our words go deeper to have a bigger impact on kids when we shift our language use more encouragement than praise.

What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Praise usually is an attempt to externally motivate children with rewards or by pleasing others. It focuses on the product rather than the process. If used excessively, it may foster people-pleasing behaviors and performing in order to gain rewards. They begin to rely on external motivation from others rather than internally motivating themselves. The underlying message of praise is “I’m going to recognize you because you did something I believe to be good or valuable.” Praise uses a lot of value-heavy words: good, great, awesome, etc.

Encouragement seeks to promote internal motivation and the contributions kids make. It helps children develop self-control and self-motivation. Encouragement focuses on the process rather than the outcome, on things children are doing, on choices they are making. When kids feel their effort is being noticed and encouraged, they are more likely to become more persistent and determined and skillful problem solvers.

Encouraging phrases that recognize effort and improvement:

You worked really hard on that! I can tell that’s tough, but you’re not giving up on it! You’ve already finished half of your homework, and it’s only 3:30! You’ve made so much progress on (insert specific thing)! You studied quite hard for that test. You are so focused on getting that just how you want it.

Encouraging phrases that show confidence:

I know that’s something you can figure out! You’re working really hard to find the best way to do that. Sounds like you know a lot about that. Knowing you, I am sure you’ll do fine.

Encouraging phrases that focus on contributions, assets, and appreciation:

Thanks for your time, that was a big help!

If was thoughtful of you to… You have a knack for _____, can you give me a hand with that? You are so patient with your little sister. I appreciate you being honest, even when you know it might get you in trouble.

Some easy language shifts from praise to encouragement can help kids grow in self confidence and internal motivation. When you show faith in your kids, their faith in their own abilities grows.

Want some more encouraging phrases to incorporate? Check out this download!

Encouraging Phrases
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