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Praise vs Encouragement Is Like Nouns vs Verbs

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Praise vs Encouragement

One of the most important concepts in Adlerian psychology is encouragement. In fact, it is such a big concept I get deterred from writing about it on my blog because I try to keep my posts to 500 words or less.  But recently one of my mentors, Christine Nisan, used very clear concise language that I thought might help parents grasp the concept of encouragement as distinct from praise, since praise is not recommended. Christine said ” think in terms of verbs versus nouns”.

Encouragement is about verbs, praise is about nouns.    Here are some encouragement versus praise examples to show you the difference:

You have picked a nice outfit today — vs—  you are pretty

You are studying hard — vs — you are smart

When we use the language of encouragement we are helping to reinforce the belief that the person is an active agent in their choices and that they have influence and control in the outcomes of their life.    One can choose to dress tidily or sloppy, right?  But one has no control over if they are born “pretty”.   Likewise, kids think they were born “smart” (noun) and don’t realize that it is the act of studying (verb) and the learning (verb) that lead to their understanding which resulted in getting a good mark.

Adler’s theory of Individual Psychology stresses that all humans are capable of change and we can always do differently.  It is freeing and liberating to know you are capable of deciding how you will act.   It’s empowering to a child that they can do differently.  You can study harder and improve your grades.  You can be attentive to your hygiene and clothing and improve your appearance.

If a child believes they are a brat (noun) or a bad girl (noun)  because they have been called one, they come to accept that label (noun).  It feels fixed and unchangeable and they can get locked into that role in the family.   If, however, they understand that they are behaving (verb) in uncooperative ways , they understand that they can choose to act differently!


About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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5 Responses to “Praise vs Encouragement Is Like Nouns vs Verbs”

  1. Praise Vs Encouragement | Childreach

    […] and to teach them that they have control over their successes in life. I recently read this article that talks about how the difference between praise and encouragement has opened up a whole new world […]

  2. Cary

    As someone who works with students and also manages volunteers who directly work with struggling readers, I think understanding the difference between praise and encouragement is so important. We challenge our volunteers to go beyond simply saying “good job” and instead saying more specific things like “I really like how hard you are trying.”

    One thing to note is that words like “pretty” and “smart” are actually adjectives, not nouns, but I really like the idea of focusing on the verbs and the things the person can choose to DO.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Melissa

    Great article! I love how concise it is and really addresses what to say. I do have a question though. Can you explain more about the very vs. nouns distinction? You say “You have picked a nice outfit today — vs— you are pretty” as an example of verbs vs. nouns. “Pretty” and “smart” are adjectives. Just trying to explain this to some of my friends who liked your angle but pointed out this piece as a question. Thanks!

    • alyson

      Thanks for the question. Action words are verbs, and so they describe behaviour choices and we can always make different choices. Nouns name things. It is what you ARE. I guess another way to say it is “state versus trait”. Are you an angry person? or do you act angry? If you beleive you are an angry person and its in your nature (noun /trait) then you are less likely to change. If you are acting angry it is your current state and changeable. If we want to motivate change we have to show the importance of action and behaviour as it empowers us to make different choices. You can always change the way you dress, but you can’t change if you were born pretty or not. Hope that makes sense?

  4. Meagan

    I’d like to share your post, but in the way you’re using them, “pretty” and “good” are adjectives, not nouns. It’s a helpful reminder that they are different parts of speech, though.


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