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Encourage One Another: How Affirmation Helps, Criticism Harms

By HERWriter
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Encourage One Another: Affirmation Helps, Criticism Harms Monkey Business/Fotolia

In the 18th century, author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote to a friend, “Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” Science backs him up.

Criticism, it turns out, is detrimental to cognitive functioning.

Those of us who are Type A pillow-fluffers, thank-you note writers, if-you’re-not-five-minutes-early-you’re-late, micro-managing fault-finders tend to favor correction over encouragement. We believe there’s a right way to do things, and we’re happy to let everyone know it.

I have been guilty of this with my kids, chasing my daughter with a bottle of detangler and a hairbrush, pushing my quiet son to be more outgoing, join some clubs, text some friends, and for heaven’s sake, everyone load the dishwasher!

Well, I’m doing it wrong.

Research has shown parental encouragement to be one of the best ways to offer support to your kids.(2)

Y. Joel Wong defines encouragement as the expression of affirmation through language to instill certain characteristics.(2) Affirming language nurtures these qualities:(2)

  • Courage
  • Perseverance
  • Confidence
  • Inspiration or hope in a challenging situation.

Praise and encouragement are not the same. Congratulations or flattery are judgements on past success or innate qualities, while encouragement has a present or future orientation.(2) Encouragement nudges the recipient towards ideas of success at a task, perseverance or the possibility of a solution.

In his book “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships,” Daniel Goleman explains that the prefrontal lobe of the brain, associated with positive emotions, actually enhances mental ability when activated.

Goleman is not advocating a “low expectations and lots of praise” environment of mediocrity. Rather, he reports that positive feedback can increase information processing, cognitive flexibility and creative thinking.(3)

So back to Wong’s affirmations: inspiring courage, perseverance, confidence and inspiration, actually helps people think better.

1) Positiveness Part II: Encouragement, Appreciation, and Pride. PsychologyToday.com. Retrieved February 22, 2016.

2) The Psychology of Encouragement: Theory, Research, and Applications. APA.org. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
http://www.apa.org/education/ce/psychology-encouragement.pdf  p. 182, 186

3) Why Positive Encouragement Works Better Than Criticism. FastCompany.com. Retrieved February 22, 2016.

4) Neural responses to maternal criticism in healthy youth. NCBI.gov. Retrieved February 22, 2016.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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