Giving Praise and Encouragement
Unfortunately some of us go through the day seldom hearing praise or encouraging comments. In fact, we may even be criticized by others, or we may criticize ourselves. We all know what criticism feels like. It can lead to feelings of insecurity, embarrassment, anger, resentment or depression. Yet it is easy to say something critical, especially when we are frustrated or tired. And you are certainly not alone if you find yourself being critical of your children.
We desire to help our children improve and correct their mistakes. What we may not fully realize is that criticizing our children can discourage them from trying to learn new things and may hurt our relationship with them. In the pressure of daily living we can forget the power of encouragement and praise. Encouragement and praise benefit both the giver, who feels more positive, and the receiver, who feels more able to succeed.
We invite you to begin by viewing the 7-minute video “You Can Do This-Encouragement and Praise.” Take a look at the Big Picture for an overview. Then click on Things to Try and choose an activity for learning how to encourage and praise your family members. We would enjoy hearing your stories about how these activities helped or about other things you did that worked for you.
Remember, you’re not alone. You can do this.
Begin with your own attitudes and behavior
Encouraging children gives them the courage to try new behaviors. And praising them invites them to repeat the positive behaviors that you praised. While criticism reduces confidence, encouragement and praise help our children succeed.
What is Encouragement?
Typically children will experience some doubt and uncertainty as they go through life. Encouragement can help children who may be struggling with things they consider important but may approach with insecurity, such as sports, music, schoolwork, friendships, etc.
Encouragement involves noticing children’s strengths, acknowledging their efforts, and communicating to them that they can succeed.
What is Praise?
Praise is affirming that someone has done something well. It can be expressed orally, in writing, or through actions.
Many give praise with something general like “great job” or “fantastic.” However, praise can be more effective when it is immediate, sincere, and specific. The individual should be told soon after the incident what she has done and why it is important, perhaps something like this: “Great job finishing your homework as soon as you got home!” Now you have lots of time to play before dinner.”
Benefits of Encouragement & Praise
Helping your children know and feel that what they do matters will help you have a more positive relationship with them. Of course their success and failures matter to you, but so they know how much you care?
Encouragement and praise not only produce good feelings, they help children learn and grow. When children feel valued, when their efforts are noticed and encouraged, they are more likely to make an effort to repeat the good behavior or strengthen the new skill.
People have a natural tendency to criticize more than they praise. We invite you to turn this around and make opportunities to praise more than criticize. In fact, we think it’s best to make eight encouragement or praise statements for every one criticism or correction.
“If we look for opportunities to praise, we will find them all around us: in the small, struggling steps of a child, in the improved attitude of a teenager, in the extra effort of a spouse, or in the dedication of a co-worker.” [Lloyd K. Newell, May Peace Be With You: Messages from "The Spoken Word" (Salt Lake City UH: Deseret Book, 1994).]
General praise, such as saying “good job,” is positive but may be improved by important considerations. Sometimes general praise can be confusing: Children may not know exactly what they did right. For praise to be most effective it should be contingent, immediate, sincere, and specific.
An easy way to remember these four parts of effective praise is to think of praise as being like a kiss--but it’s spelled CISS.
Contingent. Praise must be based on an actual behavior.
Immediate. Praise should be given when the positive behavior is on the minds of both giver and recipient.
Sincere. Praise should be heartfelt and enthusiastic--never artificial or contrived.
Specific. Praise needs to focus on and call attention to specific behavior
Effective Praise is Contingent. Both giver and receiver must know that the praise is deserved, based on actual behavior. For example, if a teenager arrives home at the designated time, a father could sincerely say, “I appreciate the way you respected the curfew we set.” The praise was given in response to and contingent on an appropriate behavior.
Effective Praise is Immediate. Praising at the time of the good behavior helps the child know exactly what he did at the time he did it. The praise is closely associated with the behavior and is more likely to be repeated. And putting off praise may cause us to forget the positive incident or lose some of the enthusiasm we had for it.
Effective Praise is Sincere. When we look children in the eye and speak sincerely, they will know we mean the approval we express--that we are not just trying find something nice to say. An enthusiastic tone of voice should communicate how pleased we are with their behavior.
Effective Praise is Specific. “Good job" says "good feelings," but it does not call attention to the good thing the child has done. “I love it when you clean your room without being asked. And you even vacuumed!” Specifically describing good behavior reinforces it. When children know exactly what they did that was praiseworthy, they are more likely to have positive feelings about it and to repeat it.
How to Build Confidence Through Encouragement
Think of encouragement as if you were keeping a balloon in the air: Lots of little upward taps keep it from hitting the ground.
Remember that encouragement gives children the courage to try and keep trying until they master the task they are working on. Encouragement shows you are interested not only in the child’s success, but also in the effort she is making to be successful.
Be alert to notice opportunities to encourage. Recognize when a child is struggling, is hesitant, or might not be sure of herself.
Remember the importance of giving encouragement when children are not necessarily struggling, but may be hoping for or anticipating success in something important to them like a baseball game, a piano recital, or a test in their favorite class at school.
Be specific. Tell children why you believe in them and think they can succeed in what they are doing. Encouragement is powerful, especially when someone whose opinion is valued expresses specifically what strengths can contribute to desired success.
Make encouragement a family affair. During a family activity, ask each family member to write down something positive about each other person in the family. When everyone is finished writing, select one person and have all the others share their praise of this person. Increase effectiveness by having the participants look at the person, smile, say the person's name, and praise sincerely. Continue until all family members have received their positive feedback--including and especially mom.
How to Recognize the Positives in Others
Teach yourself to recognize opportunities to praise by regularly asking yourself questions like these:
What positive things are family members doing?
How can I be sure to notice strengths and positive behaviors?
Do I regularly communicate encouragement and praise to my family?
Praise is not reserved just for children. Encouragement and praise of our spouse will help build a more positive relationship.
Consider this example. The wife has taken several hours to clean the house and prepare something new for dinner. The husband comes home from work, and without any eye contact says “I’m home, can we eat now?” The wife says, “Yes, I just put it on the table. I made something new I think you’ll really like.”
The family sits down to eat. How can the husband praise the wife? He can use the steps of praise and encouragement. He can recognize the positives: The house is clean, dinner is ready, and a new dish has been prepared.
He can give effective praise and encouragement by remembering CISS:
Contingent. “You’ve worked hard today. The house looks fantastic, and dinner smells great!”
Immediate. The husband praises his wife immediately as he recognizes her efforts. He doesn't make a mental note to compliment her after he has glanced at the newspaper and inspected the garden.
Sincere. His praise reflects genuine gratitude. Neither his tone nor his choice of words is affected by weariness or discouragement he might be feeling because of something that happened at work.
Specific. He recognizes specifically what she has done and calls attention to it. "I know how busy you've been with the school carnival, and I appreciate the time you've taken to make something special for the family."
Effective encouragement can be shown in "little" ways: putting your arms around a child, giving him a little hug, touching him gently, looking at him with a tender expression that reflects love.
A note can encourage children to try to do something they may be unsure about:
We know you are worried about taking the SAT, but you are well prepared and it will pay off. No matter how it turns out, you’ll know you studied really hard and did your best. We are proud of you.
Mom & Dad
Sometimes it’s easier to think of positive things when the busy demands of the day are not distracting us. Take a few moments in the morning to think about times coming up during the day when you might be able to offer sincere praise to your children.
Make effective praise and encouragement part of your daily planning. Consider making a daily, recurring appointment with yourself in your computer or phone so you will have a reminder.
“A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success” (Author unknown).
“I have yet to find a man, whatever his situation in life, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he ever would do under a spirit of criticism” (Charles M. Schwab, as quoted in Richard Evans’ Quote Book, 1971, p.171).
“Positive feedback, honest praise, and recognition for work well done reinforce self-motivation and make people feel good, while negative reactions in the assignments of tasks beyond one’s ability can break down both a person’s self-motivation and his self-esteem” ("Does praise help? A look at research," Ensign, March 1973).