“You are such a good boy!”
“You are so pretty!”
“You are the smartest kid I know!”
These may seem like harmless statements that any good parent would use to show their child how much he or she is loved and valued. Below the surface, however, they carry some unwanted implications and expectations. It is helpful for parents to understand the difference between giving praise and offering encouragement.
Praise is an evaluation of a child’s behaviour or characteristics. It is a reward given to a child for pleasing his or her parent. Praise makes a child feel judged.
Encouragement, on the other hand, is an acknowledgment of a child’s efforts. It is not a prize awarded for a job well done; it is an appreciation of the process. Encouragement makes a child feel accepted.
Compare “You are such a good boy!” with “Thank you for helping me fold the towels.” When you praise a child by simply telling him how good he is, he gets the message that he needs the approval of others to know his worth. If he didn’t help fold the towels, would that mean he was a bad boy? By thanking him, you show him that his efforts are valued, and he feels empowered.
What if rather than, “You are so pretty!” a child was told, “You picked out your outfit and got dressed all by yourself today!” This helps her feel confident in her abilities and decisions.
“You are the smartest kid I know!” is a very big statement for a small child. If instead you were to remark, “You worked really hard on that puzzle!” it would give him recognition of his efforts.
This does not mean you should never praise your child. But when you get into the habit of encouraging more than praising, you are placing the emphasis on your child’s learning rather than their performance.
When children only receive praise for a job well done, they may feel that they are only “good” when they meet the expectations of others. Often, they might be afraid to try new things for fear they will not be successful.
Encouragement is given along the journey, not just at the finish line. When a child’s efforts, improvements, and accomplishments are met with encouragement from parents, she will develop the self-confidence needed to take on new challenges as she grows.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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