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Purpose Parenting Blog

Parenting: Encouragement vs. Praise

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

["There is so much evidence that the more parents support children's autonomy and the less parents attempt to control children, the better the children's achievement." Bindman, Pomerantz & Roisman, Journal of Educational Psychology, 2015, Vol. 107, No. 3, 756-770]

This is my third blog post about parentin in ways that support your child's autonomy. To read the first two posts, here's the link:

A long-time friend asked me to blog about #7 on my list of "10 ways to parent in ways that support your child's autonomy." So, here's #7 (who needs to do things in numerical order?)

7. Help your child develop a sense of self-accomplishment, rather than a desire to please. Parent using encouragement, not praise.

The other day, I was talking to another friend about a scientific paper my 21-year old son recently published about his original research (he studies the parenting practices of birds!).

The friend said, "You must be so proud!"

It makes sense, right? That's a social norm.

Now I'm gonna peel back the layers of that statement into deeper layer.

What happens if I reply back to my friend, (Choice A): "Oh yes, I'm super proud of him!"


(Choice B): "Actually, I'm quite happy for him. This is a goal he set for himself years ago. To become an Ornithologist and do original research to help bird populations. All his life, he's made choices to follow that path. Today, he's doing it and helping birds."

How does Choice B change my own emotional response? How does it support my son's autonomy?

When I say "I'm proud," my ego is involved in his outcome. It signals to my son that my "pride" in him is based on accomplishing things (rather than just being himself, however he shows up.)

When my son told me his paper was being published, I said, "Wow! I'm so happy for you! Think of all the things that will be different in the world because you did this research and you had the perseverance to write the paper and get it published. That must feel amazing to you! Are you proud of yourself? I would be if I accomplished that!"

Take a moment to reflect on how my son feels about his autonomy (being a separate person from me who can accomplish his own goals) because I responded that way, rather than saying, "I'm so proud of you."

Here's my truth about having our egos wound up in our kids' outcomes:

When we treat our kids as if they are reflections of us, they can never fully celebrate their successes as their own, and each failure carries twice the weight. ~ Elisabeth Harrod., Purpose Parenting ( )

Think about ways to celebrate your child's accomplishments, asking how THEY feel about what THEY accomplished, rather than praising (i.e. evaluating and assessing) them and their accomplishment. It may feel like a subtle difference, try it out. Witness their reaction. Listen to how feel about your child's accomplishments and how they feel about themselves when they feel encouraged and celebrated, rather than praised and evaluated. It's huge!

The next time your child lets you know they're having a problem/challenge, rather than offering your own ideas/solutions, encourage them to figure out a solution.

  • I know you will find a way to get the job done.

  • I love the creative way you solve problems. I never would have thought of the solution you recently had when you were stuck. I'm going to use your idea the next time I find myself in that situation.

  • That's a tough one. Keep working on it. I know you can figure it out. You always do!

  • Take a deep breath and try again. Nothing worth doing is going to happen without a lot of effort. I know you got this.

  • Do you want to find a YouTube video to help you figure it out?

  • Can you think of a time you've been in this situation before and worked through it? Could that experience help you this time?

Encouraging our kids supports their autonomy. It lets them know we have confidence in them and they helps them gain confidence in themselves. We trust them. They have what they need to move forward with their own lives.

When we praise our kids:

  • You are such a good soccer player.

  • You are a really good artist.

  • I'm so glad you get such good grades.

We are doing a few things that do not support our kids' autonomy:

  1. We're evaluating them. Assessing. Giving our approval.

  2. We're sending the message that our love/support/approval is conditional on our evaluation of their results.

  3. We're creating anxiety, self-doubt. "If my dad thinks I'm a good soccer playing, will he love me as much if I don't play well today or if I decide to quit the team?" "What if he doesn't like my next picture?" "What if I make a bad grade?"

Instead of praising/evaluating, try celebrating & encouraging:

  • You worked so hard! How do you feel now that it's over?

  • All your practice paid off today. I know some days you won't be on the winning side, but seems like continuing to practice is a good idea no matter how the next game turns out.

  • I can tell you've been working on your intonation. What piece are you excited to learn next?

  • I know you were bummed when you got a smaller part in this play, but it seems like you found ways to really make that small part shine. Did it feel that way to you?

Marshall Rosenberg, the psychologist, mediator and teacher, developed a process for supporting partnership called "Non-Violent Communication."

"According to Marshall Rosenberg, praising is a violent way of communication since it is highly manipulative and full of appraisal and judgment”. It separates. [Praising] puts the people involved in the conversation on different levels. Thus, praising does not necessarily lead to enhanced motivation; it may also further interpersonal separation."

Here's a good article by Dr. Marion Badenoch Rose if you want to dig deeper into how praise is a form of violent communication:

Relating to your kid like in ways that supports their autonomy, treats them as equals, and helps them develop a sense of doing things as self-accomplishments, rather than just to please others. Doing things just because someone else told them to do them almost always leads to resentments, power struggles. tension, anger, disappointment, frustration, and distance. When kids are INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED to do what they want and what you want, everyone is on the same team, all pulling in the same direction!

I'd love to hear feedback on these ideas. I'd love for you to choose one or two, try them out this week and let me know how it goes. Happy autonomy supportive parenting!

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