Most studies report that encouraging children is better for their development than giving them praise. Encouragement promotes the child’s self-motivation and autonomy. This type of positive reinforcement allows them to choose their own standards of achievement without depending on comparison with others or unrealistic expectations. An example of encouragement may include general statements about a child’s work, such as, “It looks like you worked really hard on that painting,” or “Your picture is very colorful — you must be very proud of your work.”
Praise, however, can weaken children’s motivation. It only teaches children to rely on the approval of others for their definition of success. Praise also carries the risk of having negative effects on the children not being praised. Young children who see another praised, but do not receive praise themselves, may begin to think that they are not capable. This could lower their self-esteem, promote feelings of inadequacy, and discourage them from continuing to try to improve. Praise focuses on subjective judgments of the child’s work, such as, “I love your picture,” or “That is the prettiest flower painting I have ever seen.”
For more information, see the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care page on encouragement and praise.