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The Importance of Praise & Encouragement

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Parent Resource Center : Topic of the Month : February 2013

Praise & Encouragement

The term "praise" refers to an expression of approval, admiration or commendation. Praising children by acknowledging their hard work and achievements is not only essential to the development of a child's confidence and self-esteem, but it also gives the child feelings of pride and accomplishment. 


You can use praise as a tool to help change difficult behavior and replace it with desirable behavior. When you  see desirable behavior, or another behavior you like, immediately get your child's attention. Then, tell him/her exactly what you liked about the behavior.  


"Encouragement" is praise for effort. Praising effort can encourage your child to try hard in the future. You can also use encouragement before and during an activity to help your child do the activity. For example, "Show me how well you can put your toys away," or "I know you're nervous about the test, but you've studied hard. No matter how it turns out, you've done your best".


Some children, especially those who are less confident, need more encouragement than others.  Encouragement is particularly important for older children.


Regardless how old your children are, your praise and encouragement will help them feel good about themselves.  Let's take a closer look at differences in praise and encouragement.



  • Conducted after obtaining an achievement and when the child is successful. (Praise only those who achieve success).
  • Given to children who obtained achievement; may be a material reward such as money or a trophy. Only few children or a few behaviors are praised, for example, a small number of students who get top marks. These rewards can only be achieved after lengthy efforts.
  • Adults assess the children's achievements and set the standard with little or no mutual participation. (Parents and teachers feel satisfied with the achievements, but do not consider whether or not the child is also satisfied.)
  • Show adult's expectations and reliance on ranking. (You are only a success if you get full marks.)
  • Children obey and follow parents' or teachers' instructions but have no intrinsic understanding of why they need to do so. (What you have done is good, but no explanation of why it is good.) 

  • Conducted before and during any action taking place; not only when the child is successful, but when he or she faces difficulty or failure. (Encourage children's efforts, progress and contribution.)
  • Any child can receive encouragement. You can encourage children for anything they have tried and anything they have done that shows progress. After enough encouragement, children may have made a praiseworthy achievement.  
  • Self-assessment by children: Children decide whether or not they are satisfied with their achievements. They set their own standards with participation from their parents or teachers.
  • Assess and respect children's own capacity (success can be measured against the child's personal improvements rather than against the achievements of others).
  • Adults emphasize with children, showing high levels of mutual interaction. ("I see that you are really excited to do this exercise. It is fun to learn new things, isn't it?")
  • Encouragement makes children proud of their achievements, efforts and contributions, giving them internal motivation to act. Children can say, "I will try hard at this subject because I like it, even though I am not getting great marks."




  1. When you feel good about your child, say so.
  2. Describe what it is that you like.
  3. Praise your child for his strengths.
  4. Encourage good behavior with praise, rather than pointing out the bad.
  5. It takes a lot of praise to outweigh one criticism.
  6. Look for little changes and successes.
  7. Accept that everyone's different, and love those differences.
  8. Surprise your child with a reward for good behavior.
  9. Praise effort as well as achievement.


Will my child get a "big head" if I praise him too much?


Some parents worry that if they praise too much, their child will get conceited or over-confident. Children feel good and are much more likely to repeat behavior that earns praise, and that praise builds their self-esteem and confidence. The major risk is giving your child too little praise, rather than too much.


Will my child start depending on praise to feel good?


You might be worried that your child will start needing the approval of others to feel good. This isn't the case. In fact, children who are criticized all the time are more likely to seek approval in order to feel good.


By using praise, you're showing your child how to think and talk positively about herself. You're helping your child learn how to recognize when she does well and to pat herself on the back.


Why can giving praise feel like hard work?


Using praise can be an effort, and you might feel awkward at first. If you give praise regularly, however, it will soon feel natural and normal.  

Try making your praise dependent on your child's behavior, rather than your feelings. You might also find your feelings begin to follow your behavior - that is, the more you look for good behavior to praise, the more positive you'll feel.


If I praise too much, won't it lose its impact?


Using descriptive praise works because you're telling your child exactly what you like about his behavior when he's done something positive. Praise can lose its impact if it's vague, rather than targeted, or if you use it when your child hasn't done anything. Your child might then learn that he doesn't have to do anything to be praised.





Books for Further Reading about Praise & Encouragement

Children: The Challenge 

by Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D. 

& Vicki Soltz, R.N.


Discipline Without Tears 

by Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D. 

& Pearl Cassel


Positive Discipline 

by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D.


Raising a Responsible Child 

by Dr. Don Dinkmeyer & 

Dr. Gary D. McKay


The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem 

by Nathaniel Branden

*The books listed above plus MANY more are available at the Parent Resource Center.

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Centers for Youth and Families
Parent Resource Center
5905 Forest Place
Little Rock, AR 72207