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!