In my many years providing therapy for children and families, I have felt passionate about helping parents to be very clear about their vision and purpose when it comes to raising children. I also believe it’s so important for teachers to give consideration to the reasons for encouraging children vs. praising or criticizing.
We want kids to develop an intrinsic sense of worth and value rather than be dependent on extrinsic sources to boost their self esteem.
More simply said, we want children to feel good about themselves from their own conclusions rather than be addicted to having their parents and teachers tell them how good they are.
I recommend parents remove the words “good” and “bad” from their vocabulary to begin. The words “good” and “bad” are words that either suppress children’s ability to explore who they are or artificially elevate their sense of self dependent upon external feedback.
I prefer to teach parents and teachers how to encourage vs. praise or criticize. How to reflect rather than review and rate. Praise focuses on the product while encouragement focuses on the effort.
Encouraging children vs. praising or criticizing supports a healthy sense of self.
Consider these scenarios:
Your child brings you a drawing she’s been working on at the dining room table and she says with a big smile on her face, “Mommy, look!”
If you respond, “Sweetie, that is beautiful! Good job!” you have just reviewed and rated your daughter’s product.
If alternatively you say with delight, “Wow! You spent a lot of time working on this. Look at all the colors you chose to use. I can tell by the smile on your face that you are very proud of your art and you want to share it with me!” ,you are reflecting the child’s emotion (her pride and pleasure with her own effort) she is presenting. You are reflecting back your observation of the effort she put forth and encouraging her to continue the effort and belief in her self and her ability to create and express.
Try telling your child, “Thank you for helping with the dishes. That was very helpful,” instead of, “Good job.”
If you need to address undesirable behavior you might say, “Sally, I see you running. Looks like you have a lot of energy right now! I know you can find your walking feet and save your energy for when we get to the play ground because this is not the place to run.”
Another example of encouraging redirection instead of corrective criticism might be, “Johnny, I am seeing your wet towels lying on the floor again and I know you can reach the towel hook. I bet you can get those towels hung up on that hook faster than a flash before you go outside to play.”
Next time your son takes out the garbage without having to be asked, you might say, “You noticed the garbage can was getting full and you chose to bag it up and take it out without anyone asking you to. You’re realizing this is your house too and pitching in shows that you care about keeping things nice around here.” Encouraging children vs. praising or criticizing helps intrinsic motivation to be helpful and collaborative.
An occasional praise statement in sincere, healthy doses can be a peppering of positive reinforcement for desirable behavior. But, overall we do not want children to grow up believing other people determine whether they are good enough or not. We want children to develop a sense of mastery and empowerment to determine their own worth and value.
For the day to day interactions, parents are going to see a more lasting positive result, higher levels of self esteem, more motivation and initiative when encouraging children vs. praising or criticizing.
It takes practice to learn how to observe our internal reactions and catch ourselves before we allow a reaction to externalize.
Whether it’s a thrill with your child’s performance and an urge to say, “You are great!” or a moment of instantaneous fury that he’s left their bike out in the rain again, this practice can help you to catch the reactive feeling before we blurt out a criticism or a praise and instead find a way to encourage your child.