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No punishments, no rewards, no praise

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 3 March 2022

A subtle, but important, factor affecting the development of children's self-esteem is when parenting gets conditional. Connecting a child's behavior (and thereby his sense of self) with extrinsic factors affects his dignity. 

Doling out a reward tells a child, "You are only worth this much." Issuing a consequence causes her to view mistakes as negative reflections of herself. So writes Barbara Coloroso in her book Kids Are Worth It.

To help our children positively realize who they are, we can move away from the inclusion of the word "if" in our parenting: "If I get a good report from your teacher, we can go to the movies tonight." "If you don't get your room clean up like I asked, there will be no video games today." "If you start behaving appropriately, you can go to the birthday party tomorrow." The practice of issuing rewards and consequences for certain behaviors sends a child the message that she is acceptable "only if..."

Instead, we can demonstrate the limitlessness of children's self-worth by opting for encouragement over praise and concentrating on solutions rather than on blame and punishment.

Encouragement vs Praise 

Encouragement is respectful and focuses on work and effort. Encouragement recognizes ownership and shapes inner direction. Statements of praise teach dependence on the evaluation of others, creating "approval junkies." Consider:

"You worked hard on that. Thank you for your help!" (encouragement)


"I like the way you did that. It is just right!" (praise). 

When we use encouragement instead of praise, we are allowing a child to feel worthwhile without the approval of others. This is another cornerstone of self-esteem.


Kelly Bartlett is a certified positive discipline educator.


true self-esteem doesn't rely on approval from others