One of the most significant areas of change in early education came with the use of positive guidance strategies in place of traditional disciplinary methods. Praise and encouragement are two important but different strategies for positive guidance, with many practitioners preferring the latter over the former. The following provides the difference between encouragement vs praise and which is most effective.
A significant feature of praise, especially when offered by an adult to a child, is that it often entails a value judgment. When a parent or educator says something like You’re such a smart boy” or “I love your painting!”, the message being sent out is that the child deserves praise for behaving in a certain way that is held in high regard by the adult – for example, being ‘smart’ or colouring in a certain way. Praise thus focuses on what the adult thinks or feels, and often includes a judgment such as “good.” Not surprisingly then, children who are praised tend to do things to please adults rather than out of intrinsic motivation.
Encouragement, on the other hand, carries no such judgment of what is ‘good’ or ‘nice’ according to the adult’s scheme of things. Phrases such as “You seem to be really enjoying playing with all those colours” or “Thank you for cleaning up your toys without being reminded,” highlight specific things children are doing right, without subjecting them to evaluation. Since such non-judgmental encouragement, focuses on what children are doing well, not what an adult thinks about their work, such children tend to develop a stronger self-motivation.
A corollary of the above difference between praise and encouragement is that the former tends to focus on a person or product while the latter highlights the effort. So while praise would verbally reward a completed worksheet or say something like, You are such a beautiful kind, encouragement would focus on the behaviour like, “ I can tell you're working hard on reading because you finished a longer book” or “I appreciate the way you organized the shelf—it makes it easier to find everything”. Also offering praise for a ‘product’ like a colourful artwork or neat worksheet might lead to select children – who are able to follow and complete tasks ahead of others – repeatedly garnering all the praise. Instead, encouragement makes room for motivating those children who may not have completed tasks but are putting in the effort, like someone who has managed to keep their temper in control or caught up with the rest of the class in numeracy.
Among the consequences of praise is a tendency to avoid taking risks. Since children dependent on external validation may be unwilling to lose their praiseworthy status, they take fewer risks. However, the process of trial and error is critical to new learning. On the other hand, children who are encouraged are less invested in getting it ‘right’ at the first instant and hence are readier for risk-taking, which eventually helps them explore and learn better.
Encouragement is a self-esteem enhancing tool that we as childcare professionals should utilize more often. By using encouragement it focuses on the child rather than on the adult. It helps children to feel that we (adults) are interested in them and in what they are doing. It also shows that we have taken the time to notice how they are feeling.
Here are examples of encouraging phrases you could use with your group of children, during different times of the day: Encouraging Phrases For Children
Positive Parenting - Encouragement Or Praise, Bright Horizons