“That’s so great!” “You are so smart!”
Most of us think of such praise as positive. However, while it may sound counterintuitive, the Montessori teacher avoids such praise when recognizing a student’s accomplishments. Yes, the Montessori classroom is filled with positive reinforcement. But, rather than praise, which is often conditional and vague (“You’re a good girl!”), the teacher gives descriptive encouragement (“You must feel so proud at finally finishing that map puzzle”).
So what is the difference between praise and encouragement?
Lavish praise, telling a child how smart or special they are, can actually make them afraid to fail; they can become dependent on such compliments for their self-esteem. Encouragement, on the other hand, allows children to become more confident, and less dependent on the praise of others. Encouragement focuses on the child’s efforts, not on their successes.
This is a strategy parents can incorporate as well. Rather than say “Good job!” which addresses the outcome, tell the child, “You worked really hard to tie your shoe all by yourself.” You can emphasize the child’s own feelings of accomplishments, as opposed to handing out rewards or punishments.
The key to offering encouragement is to make it specific and sincere: “It helped me out so much when you washed those dishes,” or “thank you for putting your toys away so quickly.” It lets them know that you noticed the positive things they did, without making them feel like they will only earn your approval if they perform so well all the time.
Remember, for a child exploring the world, the joy of discovering new things and learning new skills is often its own reward.