Encouragement Vs Praise: Motivating Your Child

To motivate your child to perform better, do you praise or encourage him? Is there any difference between the two? While both are positive responses to children, their impact can be different.

By Dr M Nithya Poornima

Encouragement Vs Praise: Motivating Your Child

In this exclusive article written by a mental health specialist from NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences), one of the top mental health institutes in the world, find out how these two expressions can affect your child’s motivation to perform better and be successful in life. 

“You are awesome!” exclaims six-year-old Aman’s father as the two play ball in the park. Ten-year-old Shriya swoops gracefully around the skating rink where she trains, and her mother cheers, “That’s my girl!” At the market, four-year-old Diya fetches four carrots when her parents ask her to, and “Cool!” they chorus. The toddler at the restaurant who drinks from his glass without spilling is rewarded with a “Good boy!”

Encouragement Vs Praise: Motivating Your Child

Such parent-child interactions are quite common. The culture you belong to will dictate how you feel when you hear these conversations. In certain cultures, praise for children is considered essential while in others it is considered unhealthy for a child’s sense of self. In most places where praise is considered essential, it is believed that it encourages children and helps them feel confident. But is that what praise really does? 

Encouragement Vs Praise: Motivating Your Child

The Oxford English Mini Dictionary defines encouragement as 'something that gives confidence, hope or support'. Praise, on the other hand, is defined as 'an expression of approval or admiration'. Many regional Indian languages too have similar definitions for these words. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the goals of encouragement and praise are different. While encouragement seeks to motivate a person with regard to the process and the effort, praise seeks to do so with regard to the outcome of that process or effort. Austria-born psychiatrist and educator Rudolf Dreikurs spent much of his time applying what is called the social discipline model in public school classrooms. He believed that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child and highlighted the role of encouragement in motivating a child’s behaviour.

Comments made by parents and teachers always have a tremendous impact on children. In this light, analysing the costs and benefits involved in encouragement and praise respectively would be helpful in making an informed choice while responding to your children.

Weighing the cost and benefits:

 You might think a cost-benefit analysis is way out of place in a magazine on parenting. But believe me, it’s useful!

Encouragement Vs Praise: Motivating Your Child

How often do you, as a parent, attempt to be fully aware of the potential impact of your responses on your child? And, how often do you feel confused when you achieve such awareness? Many parents who understand that their responses can constantly influence their children’s development often feel confused about the choices and decisions they need to make. This cost-benefit analysis seeks to highlight the impact a parent’s choices and decisions have on the development of the child.

But before we go into the analysis, it is important to understand the intended and implied purposes of encouragement and praise. In a nutshell, the intended purpose of both is to motivate the child. The difference is - encouragement fosters internal motivation while praise promotes external motivation.

  • A child does a task because it is enjoyable, challenging or exciting; it is personally rewarding - that is internal motivation.
  • A child does a task to receive a reward (good grades, praise, a prize, etc.) or to avoid punishment - that is external motivation.
Encouragement Vs Praise: Motivating Your Child

Now, let’s look at the cost-benefit analysis, keeping in mind that costs and benefits in this situation do not involve money but time, energy, feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Quality time with your child is the common investment required for both these practices! 

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