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Praise vs. Encouragement in the Infant/Toddler Room

February 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Happy February everyone! I would like to share some ideas from one of the most valuable trainings that I have had here at Gretchen’s House. It was about praise versus encouragement.

How many times have you overheard a parent say,  “Good job!”? How often might this be something that you say to your child? Not that often? I would have answered the same way before the training.  It can often be a “go to” phrase when we want children to feel proud and validated. However, I learned that there are better ways to make our words meaningful and validating in a more concrete way.

Imagine you have been asked to write a really important report for work. You work really hard on the report. You put in overtime and really do your research. You are extremely proud of your work.  How would you feel if your boss only said, “Good job”? How would you feel if your boss said, “That was a great report. It was well researched and thorough. You worked really hard on it, and I can tell you put in some extra hours”? The first comment is praise, and the latter is encouragement. The encouragement feels a lot better, doesn’t it?

According to an article by John F. Taylor (1979), the differences in outcomes for children between praise and encouragement are as follows:

Praise Encouragement
stimulates rivalry and competition stimulates cooperation and contribution for the good of all
focuses on quality of performance focuses on amount of effort and joy
evaluative and judgmental; person feels “judged” little or no evaluation of person or act; person feels “accepted”
emphasis on global evaluation of the person-“You are better than others” emphasis on specific contributions-“You have helped this way”
creates quitters creates ‘triers’ and persistence
 fosters fear of failure and dependence fosters acceptance of being imperfect; fosters self sufficiency and independence

Children who are often praised can come to depend on it. They are often less willing to take risks. If they are already doing a good job, they don’t want to try something different and fail, thus losing their “good job” status. Children who are encouraged may be open to trying new and different things because the focus is on their effort not the outcome. Picture two toddlers of similar age and ability. One child finds their shoes and takes them to their parent. They hear, “Good job,” and the parent puts their shoes on for them. The other child finds their shoes and takes them to their parent. They hear, “You found your shoes.” The child then unsuccessfully attempts to put their shoes on and hears, “You worked really hard to put your shoes on.” The parent then helps with the shoes. The second child is much more likely to continue to try to put their shoes on by themselves because their effort is being acknowledged.

One of the best examples I’ve heard came from a mom when we did this training at Curriculum Night a few years ago. Her older daughter was drawing a picture. The mom told her, “Good job.” The daughter responded with, “But mom, I’m not even done yet!” The compliment was not meaningful to the child. Perhaps she thought, “I just got a good job for something that isn’t even done yet. Do they even mean it when they tell me good job?” A comment such as, “You’re working really hard on your picture,” would have meant a lot more to her.

I never realized how much I said, “Good Job,” until I had this training. It takes some time to break the habit. Think about how you can rephrase your “Good Job” statements. Be specific and acknowledge effort. Some examples: “You put your coat on all by yourself.” “You used a lot of different colors on your marker drawing.” “You tried your green beans.” “Snow pants are really hard to put on. You’ve been trying so hard to get yours on. Are you ready for some help?”

A “Good job” every now and then is completely fine, but a little encouragement goes a long way!


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