Are your words directed toward the act or the actor? Learn about the difference between encouragement and praise on this episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.


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Doug: Andrea, I think you are the best in the world cook. Or is it, Andrea, there’s no cook better than you in the whole world? Is that the right way to say that? Are those the wrong ways to say that? Does that help Andrea or not? That is the question I get to ask Dr. Leman today.

Doug: Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: We’re talking about what’s vitamin E? What’s the difference between encouragement versus praise, and how do we help our kids with that?

Doug: I forgot to mention at the beginning, if this is your first time with us, welcome, glad you’re here. Want to let you know this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If this subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help.

Doug: So, Dr. Leman, before we go on, I know we just did this last week, but we got to make sure we do it again because some people don’t listen to every podcast. We have our own little contest. That contest is, Andrea, you want to

[crosstalk 00:01:08].

Andrea: Oh that is. Dr. Leman thinks it would be very fun to hear how you would describe Doug and myself because you don’t see us, you just hear us. So to the people who best describe us according to the Terpening kids’ judgment, you will get a free book, his newest book called …

Doug: Why Your Kids Misbehave and What You Can Do About It. We should see if people can figure out what color hair you have.

Andrea: How about you, too?

Doug: Well, yeah. And your eyes. She has beautiful eyes. Andrea has beautiful eyes.

Dr. Leman: And whether you’re tall or got a little pot belly, too much weight, not enough weight. Do you have that gaunt look? Be descriptive. Tell us what you think the guy looks like, and tell us what you think Andrea looks like. I mean, is Andrea caught in tennis shoes most of the time? Or is she one of those ladies that has to wear real shoes and brightly-colored or earth tones? I mean, this is your chance to win a book. So go at it. I think it’d be fun to see what you have to say. Who’s taller than the other? There’s a good one.

Andrea: Oh, there’s a good question.

Doug: Oh, yeah. There’s a good question.

Andrea: So how do they do this, Doug?

Doug: You go to You get 90 seconds to leave what you think. So go there, and you will get the new book, which is a great book, by the way. Can’t recommend it enough to you. As always, if again you want a foundational book from Dr. Leman, go get that one, please, Why Your Kids Misbehave and What You Can Do About it.

Doug: Today’s question is, Dr. Leman, every now and then you drop this point that we need to slip our kids a little bit of vitamin E. But you are very clear that we need to make sure that we are doing encouragement versus praise. What is the difference, and why is that important?

Dr. Leman: Well, praise is hollow, number one. I always say, “If you want to praise something in life, praise God. He’s worthy of your praise.” Your husband, your wife, your kids aren’t. Start with that.

Dr. Leman: Maybe we should call this segment Praise Reappraised because almost everybody would tell you on the street of your town that praise is important for children. I’m here to tell you it’s not important for children. I go to the extreme of getting your attention by saying it’s actually destructive. It conveys to a child that your worth is dependent upon what you do. We attach, whether it’s grades or artwork or a recitation they did for school, if it’s too flowery and it’s too I-oriented …

Dr. Leman: Maybe this will help you. Are your words directed toward the act or the actor? So you want your words directed toward the act. “Jack, it was so good to walk into that freshly cleaned garage. Thank you honey so much. I appreciate it.” That’s encouragement. It’s not, “You’re the best boy in the whole world.” It’s not gushing over the kid telling him how great he is.

Dr. Leman: So that vitamin E says to a kid, “Mom or dad has noticed the hard work I did,” whether it was cleaning your room, just going by the kid’s room and saying, “Wow, your room looks great.” The emphasis is on what? The act. You’re not drawing all kinds of inferences about how great your child is because there’s a clean room.

Dr. Leman: So it really, when you think about it, it’s a way of expressing love and admiration for your kid without going over the top. The takeaway is, again, that somebody notices the hard work I put in to this effort. So keep in mind, you want to be toward the act and not the actor, if that’ll help separate that.

Doug: So why is it important not to give hollow praise to kids like that?

Andrea: Like, “You’re a great kid.”

Dr. Leman: The kid makes the deduction in his mind, “I’m loved because I did this, because I got good grades, because I did well in that speech contest or whatever it is.” Is that really what you want to communicate to your kid? Or do you want to communicate to your kid that I love you? It’s called agape love. “I just love you.”

Doug: Yeah. This was, again, one of those things that I have learned to adopt even into my professional life.

Doug: But I want to go back to that, Andrea, you and I we both say this was … Our parents were fabulous parents. Yet this would be one of the things they did to both of us that later on, we walked with a limp. Would you not agree?

Andrea: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug: That our parents said, “You are blank.” They never acknowledged the hard work. They just acknowledged the results. We thought we always had to stay there. Right?

Andrea: We had to keep that up.

Doug: We had to keep that up. Isn’t that one of the dangers, Dr. Leman, that then we become defined by those things, not by the hard work side of it?

Dr. Leman: Right, exactly. So again, parents, I get it. This is not always easy to think through because we’re like trained seals. We all grew up in a praising society where reward and punishment is what was meted out by parents. That’s part of the authoritarian model, that you sit in judgment, that you’re judge and jury.

Dr. Leman: I’m just saying that that vitamin E goes a long way. Just a simple, “Good job.” That’s vitamin E. That’s encouragement. “Good job. I’ll bet that makes you feel happy inside.” That’s reflective of the child’s work. So practice it, parents. It takes practice. This doesn’t have to be a long podcast by the way today because this is really sort of basic, simple, and you either get it or you don’t.

Doug: It’s simple, but I think it’s a different concept for people. So I just want to accentuate what I’ve learned from you as I’ve applied. Is that when you focus on the hard work and the specifics to make it encouragement, not praise, it’s way more real for everybody.

Doug: So what do I mean by that? Andrea, thank you for going the extra mile to buy the extra groceries to make that meal that was so yummy, that I saw that you put the extra spices in and you did the extra effort to make such a great meal for us. And the blah, blah, blah was fabulous.” [inaudible 00:08:26]. That’s way more meaningful than just, “Hey, thanks. You’re a great cook,” right?

Andrea: Well, I actually have a question about that, and you’re probably going to take us back to the last podcast. Because what I hear now is, oh, next week when I go to the grocery store, I better make sure I plan another great meal where I go the extra mile because that’s where I get the affirmation. If I just make the normal spaghetti next time-

Dr. Leman: Yeah, your act of service button is lit up. That’s your love language. You’re talking to me now. There’s a part of Andrea, I know you good enough to know there’s a lot of pleaser in you. In fact, I think I described you as a wonderful positive pleaser. I don’t want a dog being a pleaser because I married a positive pleaser. Mrs. Uppington is a positive pleaser as well. But there are pleasers who please because they absolutely have to. They beat themselves up, and they’re critical of themselves. They become unequal partners in the relationship because of that.

Andrea: Are you at danger of putting your kids into a situation where if I don’t just say, “I love you because … “, but instead I say, “Wow, great job cleaning your room. I noticed the garbage was out early today.” If I’m saying those things, do they start to do it because that’s where they get their affirmation instead of me just saying,-

Dr. Leman: Yes.

Andrea: … “Wow, that is a great kid.”

Dr. Leman: Yeah. “Appreciate your effort. Appreciate you.” You know, “Boy, that meal was great. I remember trying to cook dinners for us when the kids were younger, and oh my goodness, I don’t know how you get it all to come out at the same time, honey. I just want you to know, I appreciate your effort, your hard work you put in this home for all of us every day.” That’s encouragement.

Doug: So if I were to say instead, “Andrea, I really appreciate the hard work that you put into making this meal and that you do it every day for this family,” that would feel like not pressure to do it?

Dr. Leman: That’s encouragement.

Andrea: Right, that’s better. Because now I feel like, “Oh, I don’t have to live up to a high standard every day to get affirmation.” Now, I just know he appreciates whatever level I put into the meal.

Andrea: I guess my fear is that the kid will then start doing things in order to gain my affirmation. Instead of a line we use at our house, which is, “No matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter where you go, we’ll always love you.” Our kids, they carry that message in their head that even if they didn’t clean their room, we still love them.

Dr. Leman: Well, if you’re an encouraging household, your kids will catch on to the lingo, and they’ll be using it themselves. How many times as parents have we told ourself, “I’ll never say that to my kid.” As I always like to say, you not only say it, but you say it with the same tone and inflection that your parent said to you. So you do observe and you absorb the encouraging nature of your parents. If you’re lucky enough to grow up in an encouraging home, my, you’re going to shine in the workplace, I’ll tell you. People are going to love you. So it’s all good. Like I say, this is pretty simple stuff.

Andrea: It is pretty simple stuff, but it’s hard sometimes to delineate between encouragement and praise. I think the key is that you’re talking about the heart. You said a couple times that you appreciate the hard work that someone does. So I appreciate the hard work that you did to think about getting the trash out early. I appreciate that.

Dr. Leman: And if you need a self-quiz, just ask yourself what I just said, does it really focus in on the act or the actor? So you want to make sure the act is front and center. “That was so kind of you to do whatever.” The premium is on the action.

Doug: Right, instead of just saying, “You’re a good kid.” Which is not bad, obviously. But instead of just always be like, “Wow, you’re a great kid because you did this, this, this.”

Andrea: I guess maybe it’s just my own issue is I feel like I’m almost being manipulated to keep up that good behavior in order to earn affirmation.

Dr. Leman: If you walk around though trying to be Joe encouragement, I mean the kids’ll read you like a book. It won’t come across as natural.

Dr. Leman: Just try to incorporate vitamin E in your life. The guarantee is, if you do that, your kids will catch the flavor of the fact that you appreciate them for who they are. And you’re blessed to watch your kids invest in other people’s lives, do things without being asked, being responsible. All you’re doing is watering the positive plant and making sure it grows in a positive direction. That’s all you’re doing. Don’t overdo things. There’s something about moderation that’s good.

Doug: So let’s talk real quickly about the critic out there who says, “Well, but Dr. Leman, I can’t say that because actually they didn’t do it right. They took the trashcan and they put it too close to the road. I’m afraid it’s going to get hit. So I can’t say they did a good job by getting it out early.” There’s a lot of people out there that are like, “I like the concept, but if you knew what was going on in my head, Dr. Leman, you’d realize I just can’t do that.”

Dr. Leman: I’d say just continue doing what you’re doing and ask yourself, “How are things working out?” Now, that’s a little sarcasm from Kevin Leman. The critics are critical of everything. When you give them a great suggestion, they’re going to find a reason to torpedo it. If you want it to torpedo it, go live your life the way you want to live. I don’t care.

Dr. Leman: I love the story of the guy that gets a new hunting dog. You’ll love this one because he was a duck hunter. No offense to you Oregon Ducks up there. But anyway, he gets this great dog. His friend is a pessimist. He’s about the most negative person in the world. He hunts with this guy. He just can’t wait to show him the new dog. So they go out and they get behind their blind. Ducks fly over and, bingo, down comes a duck. This dog all of a sudden goes out and walks on the water, walks on top of the water right on the lake, grabs the duck, comes back, drops it at the guy’s feet. The other guy says, “Just what I thought. That stupid dog can’t even swim.”

Dr. Leman: I’m just telling you, the critics are self-critical people. They don’t like themselves, and so they have to criticize everything around. I know myself in teaching a number of years, I got to a point where I’d say to somebody, “You know what? I really can’t solve your problem. I think this is a problem you got to solve. You have asked me, and I’ve answered your question. I’ve told you the best thing to do in this situation, but I’m not into running other people’s lives. So you don’t like this, continue doing what you’re doing. But I ask as a sidebar, how’s life going? Because I happen to know it’s not going well.”

Dr. Leman: So anyway, like I say, it’s simple. It’s a reminder. You’re going to need to practice it, parent. Why? Because you didn’t grow up this way. You grew up with reward and punishment. Depending upon how old you are, some of you were taught that children should be seen and not heard. That certainly isn’t the case today. They’re heard way too much. In fact, parents are knocking themselves trying out please their kids. So it’s a little backward, for sure.

Doug: I want to talk about that real quickly when we come back from this. So I want to get into this one because this is an e-book I absolutely love, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, for $2.99 between now and the end of June of 2020 wherever e-books are sold. Andrea, do you have a [crosstalk 00:16:53].

Andrea: Yeah. I have another Amazon review by Jim. This is interesting. He called this, “A must-read for all parents, new or veterans. What we all need is a little soul-searching when it comes to our parenting styles and skills. This one helps with that search. My wife and I are raising two grandchildren, and they make the third set of kids. I don’t know if you ever know how to do it right. This book has been a godsend. My wife and I read it at night after the kids are sleeping and discuss our parenting. It’s been a real eye-opener.”

Doug: So thank you from Jim. I know he didn’t call you a genius this time, Dr. Leman, so hopefully you’re okay with that.

Dr. Leman: I love reviews like that though. The Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours book and The Birth Order Book, and I’ve answered so many questions like this. If it’s a parenting issue and people say, “Okay, where do I start?” Read Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours because it frames beautifully, I think, the difference between being an authority over your children versus being an authoritarian. So those are one-two punch. Read Making Children Mind and The Birth Order Book, and that’ll get your going on some of these Leman books that’ll really help transform your life.

Andrea: Absolutely. If you want that foundation, go get this book, Making Children Mind between now and the end of June of 2020 wherever e-books are sold for $2.99 cents.

Andrea: Now, a no-nonsense moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: Attention, parents of firstborns. Did you ever notice those firstborns many times are cautious, that they’re very hesitant at new things? Old things, they just go full bore, but if you throw them a curveball and give them a new opportunity to do something, chances are that firstborn could be cautious. If they are cautious, there’s a reason for it because they fear failure.

Dr. Leman: I think it’s important that you show kids that sometimes you got to go for it. And if you fail, it’s no big deal. One of the ways you do that, I think, is to tell stories about your own life, where you felt timid and cautious and afraid to do things. Tell them stories where you failed. But also tell them stories where you succeeded. That gives kids a balanced idea, where some things are the risk.

Dr. Leman: Do I want kids to take risks when they’re driving? No. One of the things I remember my dad told me as a kid growing up, “Kevin, never turn left until you can see the entire lane.” Hey, I’m an old guy on Social Security. To this day. I never, never, never make a left-hand turn unless I can see perfectly.

Doug: So Dr. Leman, I want to talk about the current state of how the pendulum … We never told kids anything encouraging; to now, we’re way over here. Like we can’t say anything bad to kids. Here’s the question? Do we praise, encourage our kids too much now for everything that they do?

Dr. Leman: Yes. The smallest effort is “Oh, awesome job.” Was it really an awesome job? Again, you just don’t throw those words around. Again, I want to make the point, if the kid’s room is supposed to be cleaned and there’s peanut butter and jelly crusts on the floor, just a simple, “I see your room isn’t ready yet.” Because the kid wants to go out and play. But just a simple, “I see your room isn’t ready yet.” You don’t have to point out everything to them. If you do, you’re saying, “I think you’re so stupid and dumb that you don’t see what needs to be done here.” Let the kid figure it out. If you have to come back four times and say, “It’s still not ready,” so be it. You’re not being critical. You’re just saying, stay in the facts that it’s not ready yet. That’s all.

Doug: The reason it’s destructive to always be praising every little thing is, what is the flip side of always saying, “You’re great. You’re great. You’re great,” to the kids?

Dr. Leman: Well, you blow blue smoke at them, and you terribly prepare them for a world of reality that’s waiting for them. Because their boss is not going to be gushing over them.

Dr. Leman: I don’t make these things up. I read a Wall Street Journal article about companies are trying to figure out what to do with these millennials who expect celebrations at the slightest hint of success in their career. I don’t get it, but it’s sort of what a lot of people grew up with was these over-exaggerations of the child’s self-worth in this world. We brought kids to feel like they’re the center of the universe, and they clearly aren’t. The smart parent teaches kids that other people count in life.

Doug: Do we also take away from them the ability for them to be content in themselves and reliant on others to always be lifting them up by doing this or not?

Dr. Leman: Yeah, they are looking for the balloon. They’re looking for the congratulatory statement. I mean, life isn’t like that. Bosses don’t like drama. Most bosses don’t like drama, for sure.

Doug: You’re right, for sure.

Dr. Leman: Don’t be the drama person who insists on your needs are more important than the guy next to you. You get an entry-level job today, my advice is work as hard as you can and ask, “Is there anything else I can do?” Go the extra mile. That’s how you get ahead in this world.

Doug: Yeah, our oldest just called us from Costa Rica, where’s he serving down there. He said, “Dad, I feel like I was taken advantage of … ” You know, negative, negative, negative, negative, negative, and “Nobody appreciates me. Nobody appreciates this, all that I did.” I’m finally old enough to realize, I said to him, “Son, I think you should decide that you are the one that’s going to do this for yourself and not anybody else.” He called back and he said, “Dad, thanks so much because you’re right. I did this because I wanted to do this actually, and I want others to know it. But in reality, I’m going to look at all the positives that I chose to do it.” Yeah. I’m learning as well from him.

Doug: Okay. Well, what was supposed to be a super-short one, I think is much harder than you realize, Dr. Leman. I think you naturally are an encourager.

Dr. Leman: I told you straight out this thing should be short. But no, you had to go into this and into that. Oh, my goodness. Are you expecting some sign of a big star for me today for elongating this podcast well beyond what it should’ve been?

Andrea: It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Doug: Oh, she got you.

Dr. Leman: Out of the weeds comes a proverbial giant. Oh, my goodness. Let me get my slingshot out, and see if I can take this giant down. Oh, my goodness.

Doug: Well, there we go. Encouragement versus praise. Hopefully, that helps you out. I can’t encourage you enough to do that.

Doug: Reminder, go get the book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. Sorry, I shouldn’t tell people [inaudible] even pointing. Like Dr. Leman said, you want one of the foundational Leman books to get this done. Again, do it, and thank me later. Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, $2.99 cents between now and the end of June of 2020 for e-book. If you want to leave a description of what Andrea and I look like, go to

Doug: Well, truly we love being with you. Hopefully, you can hear that and know that. It’s changed Andrea and I’s parenting, and I hope it changes yours for the better like it did us. So look forward to the next time we get to be with you.

Andrea: Bye-bye. Thanks.

Doug: Take care. Bye-bye.