Friday, June 2nd, 2023

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
Encouragement Versus Praise


A teenager sat in a room, talking with her father. When she told him that she didn’t like him praising her good grades in front of her friends, he was surprised.
"But I was proud of the grades you made," the father replied, "so I wanted to share with others. I thought this would make you happy."

The teenager said something we all need to hear: "You are telling me what I have to do to be okay. It is judgment, and I do not like it."

The father still did not completely understand but promised to no longer praise her in front of her friends.

We might think that everyone would like to be praised, but as the teenager explained, praise is a form of judgment that spells out what we have to be in order to receive approval.

So many of us put our self-worth in the hands of other people. We work hard fashioning ourselves and our actions to receive that praise. Evidence of our placing our self-worth in other peoples’ hands is that we are often crushed when we are criticized or not recognized for our work. We let one negative remark bring us down. We work hard to be accepted and "fit in." We give so much weight to what people say about us. Their opinion of who we are and what we do is more important than our own.

Another problem is that the effect of praise does not last. We enjoy it for the moment, and then we are off to get more. It’s like we have a praise bucket that we try to get others to fill, but the bucket has holes in it. Another problem is that if we don’t believe the praise, we don’t claim it.

So many of us put our self-worth
 in the hands of other people.
We work hard fashioning ourselves
and our actions to receive that praise.

I am not saying that we should not get feedback from others. We may be blind to some things that others can see. For instance, we may wonder why someone is getting upset with us. Perhaps without meaning, we are treating them in a way they find demeaning. In such a situation, unless we get some feedback, we continue with the behavior and wonder why that person is so upset.

In the end, offering encouragement rather than praise may be more helpful. The focus shifts from the outside to the inside, from actions to motivation. We want our children to live from the inside out. Offering encouragement acknowledges that each person is the final authority on who they are and what they will do. For example, instead of merely praising a child’s good grades, try asking them, "How does it feel getting that A in that class that was giving you some problems?"

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700