Thoughts on the Differences Between Praise and Encouragement, and How Each Might Benefit Students

"Good job!"

"You are so smart!"

"I am proud of you."

These statements are examples of praise.  They make us feel good for a moment, and we can even recollect when we heard these phrases in our lives to motivate ourselves when we need a pick me up.  Vicki Hoefle suggests that these statements might also pose harm to our children by influencing them to seek external reinforcement and preventing them from developing their own standards and internal framework for evaluating their actions.

Hoefle's response to the "problem of praise" is encouragement.  Encouragement takes the form of asking questions to help the child explore his actions and what can be learned from the situation, both positive or negative.  She uses the example of a child presenting a test to his parent: if the child got an A the parent praises with some of the aforementioned statements and displays the test on the fridge.   However, if the child presented the parent with a test on which he received a D, the parent would react quite differently.  Both situations illustrate a missed opportunity to have a discussion about what the child feels, has learned, or experienced.  Some questions that could be asked include: 

"What is something new that you learned from preparing and taking the test?"

"How did you earn this grade?"

"What do you think about this result?"

"What will you do the same or differently next time?" 

By offering encouragement, parents, mentors, teachers, and adults of any role can help facilitate the process of developing a child's habit of using dialogue and reflection with each choice.  Rather than placing judgment or external values on a child, engaging them with encouragement can help them build resilience.  This is also the goal of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), a movement that is spreading in schools.  After-school programs such as School to Career Progressions are helping children learn how to interpret and handle life's events, and how to pursue their own ambitions, with the support and encouragement of teachers and community.  This encouragement focuses on the process, rather than the perceived perfection - or imperfection - of an outcome. 

Supporting and motivating youth takes a variety of interventions, and some might say that all kids long to hear some words of praise.  The main question is: "How did reading this post influence your awareness on how you interact with others?  What can you do differently next time?" 

Questions for Encouraging students

Progressions Admin
Progressions Admin