One of my favorite tools to teach in parenting/teacher Positive Discipline classes is Encouragement vs. Praise. A close look at the difference between the two strategies and how to use them can be very eye opening for many people.
We live in a world that is FILLED with praise. There seems to be this idea that if we tell children how great they are all the time, then they will grow up to be great adults! We want to encourage our children, but instead we often end up praising them and robbing them of their accomplishment and self-worth.
Some people don't know the difference between Encouragement and Praise. Encouragement provides children with the opportunity to develop an "I am capable" perception. Praise creates approval junkies who only attempt things they know they will succeed at to avoid making mistakes or not receiving praise. Alfie Kohn writes about the importance of avoiding praise and rewards in many of his books, and this article. When we constantly cheer our children on, praise them at every turn, and tell them how good they are, we make them dependent on our approval and fearful of not getting it. I remember Jane Nelson saying that we should think of encouragement like water, something children need everyday, and Praise like candy, a treat that we only give every so often, knowing that it isn't really that good for them.
In my daughter's 1st grade class there are four separate reward systems that are built into the classroom "discipline" program. They get "terrific tickets" whenever they demonstrate the pillars of character that they are learning about. These tickets can be used to buy stuff like toys, books, and candy in the "terrific store". They have a marble jar, that gets marbles put in it any time the entire class does good. Whatever that means, I am not quite sure. When the jar is filled they get to have a pizza party. The children are seated in groups of five and each group gets points on the board when they are good. The group with the most points at the end of the week gets to go to the treasure chest and get a toy. There are also behavior cards that get moved from one color to another if they are not behaving as desired by the teacher. At the end of the week the children come home with a paper describing the status of their card all week. Parents are then encouraged to reward them for good weeks and address the alternative. They also get smiley faces and stars on classwork done correctly and stickers when they are good during their special classes. Parent volunteers are encouraged to tell the children that they are doing a "good job" and report back to the teacher when the children they are working with are "good"! No, I am not exaggerating. Oh how I wish I could explain the benefits of encouragement rather than praise to the entire staff at her school. It seems to be a school wide program, and it makes me cringe every time I hear about it.
According to Rudolph Driekers, encouragement recognizes the doer not the deed. Instead of "good boy", or "great job", a parent could say, "I see you put a lot of effort into that", or "wow, you must be proud of yourself." Jane Nelson outlines five questions you can ask yourself to discover whether you are being encouraging to your children. Allowing your children to self-evaluate, learn from their own mistakes, and feel pride in what they accomplish will go a long way toward helping them grow into self-confident adults.