Acknowledgments vs. Praise

Acknowledgments encourage and motivate. They serve to give recognition without the disadvantages of giving praise.

Praise has a price. It implies a lack of acceptance and worth when a youth does not behave as the adult wishes. Using a phrase that starts with “I like . . .” encourages a young person to behave IN ORDER TO PLEASE THE ADULT. By contrast, acknowledgments affirm while fostering self-satisfaction. 

Notice the difference in the following examples: 

  • “I am so pleased with the way you treated your brother,” versus “You treated your brother with real consideration.” 
  • “I like the way you are working,” versus “Your working shows good effort.” 
  • “I’m so proud of you for your grades,” versus “Your grades show you are doing well.”

Two characteristics usually determine whether the comment is one of praise or one of acknowledgment. The first is that praise often starts with a reference to oneself: “I am so proud of you for…” or “I like the way…” The second is that praise is patronizing. If you would not make the comment to an adult, then think twice before making it to a youth—unless you want to promote obedience rather than responsibility.

The point is not that praise should never be used, but that an acknowledgment engenders more positive feelings than praise and, therefore, is a more effective motivator for influencing future behavior.