Ever catch yourself saying “good job” to your child after they have done something, say like put away their shoes, help set the table or brush their teeth? Do you feel like in doing so you are positively reinforcing something you want to see them do every day? Did you know that by saying “good job”, “amazing work” and such all the time can actually be sabotaging your child’s learning and inner motivation?
Wait a minute, isn’t saying things like “great job!” and “Amazing work!” really positive?
All that praise certainly sounds positive. Yet, there is a lot of information in the parenting literature that warns of the dangers of praise. Among other things researchers have found that praise when overdone can be counter-productive to the learning and motivational process. “Empty” praise can actually make a child want to do things less! Plus, a child that is praised too often can become insecure, always wondering if their accomplishment has been “good enough” and deserving of a “good job” or simply uninterested in doing anything unless they know they will be “great” at it.
The good news? There are ways to substitute the so called “empty” praise! We can do this by choosing to speak in ways that focus on observation, acknowledgement, appreciation and encouragement. When we do this, we can be positive in ways that are really beneficial to our children, our relationship and their esteem.
Last week at the playground, my four year old decided to climb a really high structure. He was ready and nothing could stop him. I was amazed at his confidence as he carefully weaved across the structure. I wanted to say, ok, actually shout: “wow! Great job buddy” but I stopped myself. Instead, I observed instead and said “I see you up there!” When he reached the slide, he came down bounding with confidence. “You saw me! You saw me climb! I did it! I’m going again!” He climbed over and over for a long time, he felt so proud of himself. It didn’t matter if I was looking or not anymore, he just wanted to keep exploring his climbing skills.
Would it have made much of a difference if I had yelled “Great job” instead of “I see you”? From my experience, I can honestly say yes. If I had said “Great Job” like I used to, I am certain that I would have had to plant myself near the climber and say it each and every time he tried it. Now, it’s not that I don’t love spending time with him, but I just see his true enjoyment of the experience when there is no evaluation being made.
Yes, no matter which way we frame it giving praise, is giving an evaluation. If there is a “good job” then surely there is a “bad job”…On the other hand, when we say something that is acknowledging or encouraging, children can internalize this information and build inner confidence.
So what should we be saying instead of “Good Job” all the time? How about something like:
- “You figured it out!”
- “I see you up there!”
- “You did it!”
- “Thank you!”
- “I appreciate that you…”
- “What if you try again?”
- “Wow! You didn’t give up!”
- “Great, you really worked hard on that.”
- “I notice that…”
- “Look at what you did!”
There are so many challenges and obstacles that parents have to face. Is praising or not praising worth stressing over? Truthfully, I think that praise is bit like eating chocolate fudge pie or going on a roller coaster, in small doses it can be a wonderful treat. If as parents we make an effort to concentrate on using observations, acknowledgements, appreciations and encouragement then the bits of genuine praise should not be questioned for a moment. Everyone likes to hear a “Good Job” once in a while! Yet, if we find ourselves just mindlessly uttering “good job” at every clap, step, dish on the table or sock in the hamper, all day, every day, then, yes, maybe pausing and rethinking could be a good thing.
So, do you find yourself saying “Good Job” all the time? Some of the time? Do you think it’s worth changing or will you be sticking with your ways?
Peace & Be Well,
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For more information on praise check out Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job! by Alfie Kohn and this fantastic post by Kelly Bartlett on Why Kids don’t need Praise from Their Parents(And What They Need Instead).