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The Positive Impact of Parental Encouragement

By Abby Jo Robertson, Intern & Christina Pay, Extension Assistant ProfessorMom giving daughter high five

Parents want the best for their children, including giving them needed emotional support. While positive encouragement may seem like a good parenting concept, research has shown that encouragement actually improves children’s behavior. A researcher from De Montfort University in the United Kingdom discovered that parents who encouraged their children at least five times a day saw an improvement in their child’s behavior, (Popkin, 2019). 

It is important to remember that praise and encouragement are two very different things. Praise tends to focus on the child and what the parent thinks or feels, which often includes judgement. Children who grow up being praised usually tend to do things to please adults (Extension Foundation, 2021). On the other hand, encouragement is a non-judgmental route that parents can take. Encouraging statements tend to point out the specific facts or the process instead of evaluation of the child. Children who grow up in an environment where they are encouraged tend to develop a stronger sense of self-motivation and pride in themselves, with less concern about pleasing others (Extension Foundation, 2021). Encouragement works because it focuses on effort, sets up children for success, and teaches children to evaluate themselves on their own merits, (Extension Foundation, 2021). 

To make sure that encouragement with your children is successful, keep it honest, sincere, and to the point. Focus on their effort and not the child and eventually you will see positive results.  (Popkin, 2019). If you have the opportunity, start with encouragement at a young age! If that is not an option, it’s okay to start wherever you are. Be sure that you let them know when you see them working hard, describe their good behavior, praise their effort rather than their ability, and look for the little changes, (De Montfort University Leicester, 2019). Regular parental praise is a great way to improve a child’s well-being, (The British Psychological Society, 2017).

According to De Montfort University, there are many different ways parents can express encouragement, including:  

  • Catch your child doing something good, and let them know! When a child is told that they are behaving well, they are more likely to keep behaving that way. 
  • Describe the good behavior that you see your child doing! When your child knows what you are happy about, they are more likely to continue repeating that same behavior. 
  • Recognize their efforts, hard work, and achievements! Children respond better when their efforts and hard work is recognized, as well as their achievements. Unrealistic praise can be confusing, and might impact their self-esteem. All encouragement must be honest and sincere, and it is important to remember to avoid making comparisons when doing this. 
  • Make the encouragement relevant! Their positive encouragement needs to be appropriate for the child's age.
  • Look for the little changes and successes! Don’t wait until your child does something perfect to recognize them, encourage them throughout the process to encourage positive behavior! 
  • Remember 5 praises a day! Giving your child five types of encouragement a day can really help make a difference.

Making these small changes in a child's everyday life has been shown to improve their behavior and help develop more positive relationships with parents. Try using positive encouragement with your child and see the difference that it makes.

Additonal Resources

Need additional ideas on ways to use positive encouragement with your child?  Check out these resources: