Mary Sweeney | November 2 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear New School Early Childhood Families,

This month our early childhood teachers are focused on the social-emotional skill of encouragement with our students. The word “Encouragement” is a positive word and sounds like it would be easy to teach… but are we as parents and teachers really encouraging our children or giving them praise? Are our students showing self-encouragement or seeking approval?
So what is the difference between the two? Which is most appropriate for engaging with our children? 
Praise teaches the need for external feedback; I am okay if you like what I do or what I made and I feel bad if you don’t. Praise focuses on the parent’s or teacher’s thoughts and opinions and is only given when a child performs well. Examples could be: “Great job” or “That’s wonderful.” The challenge is that many children, and adults, like praise but it creates a dependency on others to feel successful. What we want to create in our children is independence in one’s self that is not tied to the approval of other adults or rivalry with other children. Praise can create a sense of competition in children as young as 3- or 4-years-old.  Have you ever witnessed a young child say, “Look at my picture!” to which you may respond with, “You did a great job.” To be immediately followed by another child looking for approval for their work. 
Unlike praise, encouragement helps children focus on the effort and the task at hand.
Encouragement teaches the need for internal validation; I am okay because I like what I did. With older children or adults you will hear this a lot in relation to a “growth mindset.” The ability to be encouraging to others and show self-encouragement are strong foundations to self-confidence. Teaching your child internal motivation is a long-lasting skill that should start at a young age. It helps create strong, positive, and innovative thinkers— what every parent and teacher wants for our children. Encouragement gives specific positive feedback and focuses on the child’s thoughts and opinions. It can be given at any time. Examples could be: “You must be proud of yourself” or  “You picked up your clothes and did it all by yourself.” Another way encouraging words can be shifted from praise may look like: “I can see you enjoyed doing that activity” or “I noticed you really worked hard.”  These are encouraging statements that help promote enjoyment for effort vs seeking adult approval. 
Now, does teaching encouragement seem easy? Shifting from speaking praise to encouragement takes hard work and a conscious effort… it does not and will not happen overnight. I know that as educators, we are constantly working on this and making conscious decisions daily for the betterment of our students.
Many teachers find that a simple tweak in words can make a difference in children’s perseverance of difficult tasks. Changing “I like...” to “I notice...” is an easy one. One of my favorite ways to encourage internal motivation is by asking children who are seeking approval,  “What do you think?”  These little changes in the ways that we speak to our children teaches self-encouragement that will help them become more independent and confident. 
Here are a few examples of statements and ways to encourage your own children:

  • “You figured out how to do it all by yourself.”
  • “You did it.”
  • “I notice…”
  • “You are learning how to___. Last week you had trouble, but this week you did it.”
  • “Tell me how you did that.”
  • “I see that you are working hard.”
  • “This is hard for you, but you keep trying.”
  • “What is your favorite part?
  • Say nothing, just smile!

I don't want to make you feel paranoid about giving praise to your child.  There are moments when praise is appropriate. However, I do want to encourage you to reflect this week on how often you use praise statements. We could all make the conscious effort to communicate more often with encouragement instead of praise. 
After a few days of reflection, you may realize praise is a bigger part of your communication than you thought! Try and think of alternative encouraging statements, or use the ones listed above, that you could teach your child to show self-encouragement. Notice the light in their eyes when they accomplish something and show pride in their work, without needing approval from others. 
Understanding the difference between praise and encouragement can make a big difference in your child’s growth, independence, and self-esteem.  We all want our children to grow up to be self thinkers, hard workers who seek out challenges, and show pride in their accomplishments. Together we can!
"It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings." — Ann Landers


TNS Strong, 

Mary Sweeney

Head of Early Childhood 

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