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The Critical Importance of Praise and Encouragement in Child Development

Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a facilitator; it becomes absolutely crucial to understand the importance of praise and encouragement in child development.

When done in the right and appropriate manner, a child growing up with your praise and encouragement will be nurtured to grow into a responsible and productive individual, who adds value to people around him/her and contributes his/her bit for the society at large.

In this article:

  1. What is the Difference between Encouragement and Praise?
  2. Why is Encouragement Important for a Child?
  3. Uses of Encouragement and Praise in Child Development
  4. What is Reflective Listening?
  5. 4 Highly Effective Ways to Encourage and Praise a Child

What is the Difference between Encouragement and Praise?

Encouraging is a process of providing positive verbal or nonverbal attention to the child, which can help in enhancing the child’s self-esteem. Encouragement can be conveyed (demonstrated) through pats and high-fives.

Praising is a positive attention that a parent, teacher or a facilitator can give a child, with the intention to indicate to the child that he/she is noticed and appreciated for his/her deed(s).

Praise and encouragement are among the 7 powerful ways to practice positive parenting at home, and can have a long-term positive behavioural impact on the child – across the entire adult life.

Why is Encouragement Important for a Child?

Both encouraging and praising are very important for the development of a child, as they are considered as a humane approach to help him/her learn and grow.

A few decades ago, using praise and encouragement as a parent or teacher to help children learn better were considered as things that would spoil them. Ironically instead, criticism and disapproval were used, assuming it may strengthen their positive character.

However, observations from many research studies have concluded that criticism mode of teaching or parenting only imprisoned or suppressed the creative energy in children and severely damaged their self-esteem.

Uses of Encouragement and Praise in Child Development

Encouragement and praise are the two most essential and powerful forms of communication that can be effectively used in children to:

  • Stay engaged
  • Demonstrate desired behaviours
  • Help master skills
  • Assist to complete tasks
  • Support in solving complex problems

Most of all, praise and encouragement are said to be a highly effective tool to build self-esteem, which is at the root of excellent performance and strong character in a child.

Praise and encouragement, therefore, undoubtedly would help children learn to the best of his or her abilities and grow as productive individuals with well-rounded character and value systems.

Though the worlds “encouragement” and “praise” sounds to be synonyms, the outcome of each of these when demonstrated on a child are different.

Children need Praise to fulfil the following 3 needs:

  • Recognition
  • Acceptance
  • Approval

Children need Encouragement to fulfil the following 5 objectives:

  • Support in attempting new or difficult tasks
  • Support in facing new or difficult situations
  • Helping to continue with a task at hand
  • Assisting in learning new skills
  • Developing 8 important positive character traits

When a parent, teacher or facilitator uses encouragement and praise as one of the methods to teach a child, it can be useful only if the words used for encouraging and praising are non-judgmental.

Non-judgmental encouragement or praise can be achieved only through what is called “Reflective Listening.”

What is Reflective Listening?

Reflective listening is a form of demonstrating genuine encouragement or praise. The comments used, or the statements made while using reflective listening gives a clear picture to the child about how and what his/her behaviour looks like – irrespective of the standard of performance of the behaviour.

The child feels a sense of validation when the parent’s, teacher’s or facilitator’s observation about his/her behaviour is based on reflective listening. That’s why you should treat your child’s talk as a real conversation, which is one of the 5 powerful things to do to make your child smarter.

Reflective listening is a step ahead of normal or regular way of listening. It is a way of responding to the child (or another person) by reflecting his/her thoughts and feelings that were heard by closely observing his/her own choice of words, tone of voice, body posture and gesture.

In other words, reflective listening can also be called as a process through which the listener checks his or her understanding with what the speaker is actually trying to communicate.

For reflective listening to be active and effective, the listener must understand the communication at both the content level as well as the teaching level.

The statement(s) made as an outcome of reflective listening typically begins with “You” or “I”, and is followed by the description of what the parent, teacher or facilitator saw when the child was in action.

Reflective Listening Statement Examples

For example, after absorbing a five year old named (say Sheila) helping her classmates during lunch break, the facilitator’s reflective comments could be:

I saw you giving napkins to all your friends Sheila. Your help is much appreciated.

Or

So nice of you to give napkins to all your friends Sheila. Very Good. Keep it up.”

Benefits of Reflective Listening

To fully appreciate the importance of praise and encouragement in child development, you should first understand the benefits of reflective listening for child development.

Reflective listening in a setting wherein the child who is the speaker and the parent, teacher or facilitator is the listener, has several advantages.

Benefits of Reflective Listening for the Child (The Speaker)

  1. Helps the child know that he/she is heard, understood, cared for and supported, which in turn empowers the child.
  2. Helps the child to vent out his/her feelings and sort out issues, no matter how small or significant. The very fact that the parent, teacher or facilitator is both available and is willing to patiently listen to the child will help him/her to be able to deal with his/her emotions well.
  3. Facilitates and allows the child who is heard to move on to deeper levels of expression, therefore helping in revealing the real cause of disturbance.
  4. Most of all, it helps a child to think and articulate more clearly and succinctly, thereby enhancing his/her communication skills.

Benefits of Reflective Listening for the Facilitator (The Listener)

  1. Checks the facilitator’s accuracy in understanding what the child is actually trying to communicate, thus avoiding any bias, assumption or illusion in understanding.
  2. Prevents the possibility of the facilitator becoming suddenly and briefly inattentive (going on a “mental vacation”) during a conversation.
  3. Helps the facilitator to solve the child’s actual problem as the real cause of it is revealed.
  4. Most of all, it helps the facilitator to clarify what he/she is expected to do and accordingly take the next steps to solve the problem or issue.

4 Highly Effective Ways to Encourage and Praise a Child

It is one thing for you to know the importance of praise and encouragement in child development but another thing altogether when it comes to demonstrating what you know.

That’s where you can use any or all of the following methods to praise or encourage a child – effectively.

1. Name the behaviour to be reinforced.

Example: “Sarah, by responsibly keeping the book back in the shelf, and in the right place after you have finished; you are helping other students to find it easily and read it. Not everyone does that.

2. Focus on specific key attributes of the child’s work rather than on the whole and in general.

Example: “The shade of blue you have used to colour the sky in your painting makes it look almost perfect.

3. Emphasize the process. Not the product.

Example: “It’s great to see your building blocks standing tall with 9 blocks. Take me through how you managed to do it beyond the 5th block.

4. Help children appreciate and please themselves.

Example: “I know for sure that you’re very happy to help your friend Sarah. So wonderful of you.

Caution!

While it is indeed critical to understand the importance of praise and encouragement in child development as an effective technique to improve a child’s behaviour, the parent, teacher or facilitator should also be cautious about not to use them too much.

Too much praise could make children become so dependent on encouragement and praise, that they may start expecting them even for very small activities and frequently.

At the same time, make sure not to miss giving encouragement and praise especially when it is actually needed and they truly deserve it.

Life is in the balance. So should be your encouragement and praise for the child.

Conclusion

As adults, it is absolute critical for the parent, teacher or facilitator to first fully understand the depth and width about the importance of praise and encouragement in child development. Only then should they demonstrate their act of providing encouragement and praise, so that it reinforces positive behaviour in the child in most if not all cases.

The application of encouragement and praise basically follows a simple rule of psychology, which says that children will always feel motivated when they are able to recognize that a person is genuinely giving them adequate attention.

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.