Three Alternatives to Saying “Good Job”

Three Alternatives to Saying “Good Job”

**This post is from Kelly Bartlett**

A lot of parenting research points to evidence that an abundance of praise is not entirely helpful for kids. As parents, we certainly mean well; our good job!s and nice work!s are meant to boost our kids’ self-esteem. So what exactly is the problem? The trouble lays in the unspoken words behind each good job—the unintended message that communicates, “You pleased me, and that’s good. That’s what you should be doing.” More than it celebrates, blanket praise imparts judgment and increases a child’s reliance on external validation.

When really, we want to teach our kids to be internally validated for their own actions. To know—without being told—that what they did was good, was right, was what they should be doing. We want their motivation to come from within themselves, so they may continue to do good work, even when no one is around to tell them so.

If you’re like me and, after reading about the detriments of praise, are left thinking, “If not good job, then what can I say?” consider this: there are three common types of actions in which “good job” responses typically fall.

• When children do something appreciatory (helping out)
• When children do something impressive (showing talent)
• When children do something celebratory (achieving a goal or milestone)

What to say to kids instead of Good Job

What we need is a way to communicate the essence of the action. We need a quick, easy way to respond favorably (as the appeal of good job is its quick, exclamatory nature) that is more articulate, more appropriate, and more expressive than a generic good job. Depending on the nature of the task to which you’re responding, here are three alternatives to good job.

Thank you!
This is for the times when kids tell you they’ve done something helpful that they’re proud of.
Mom, I’m all done setting the table.
Mom, I gave the dog some food.
Mom, I watered the plants.
Mom, we each carried in a grocery bag for you.
If a quick “thank you” doesn’t feel like enough, you can add, “I really appreciate that!” or, “That helps so much!”

This is for when kids do something impressive or show you cool things they can do.
Mom, I drew this picture!
Hey Mom, watch this; watch what I can do! (Followed by a new dance move, a trick on the jungle gym, or a gymnastic stunt.)
To your “Wow” you might also add, “That looks tricky!” or “You must have practiced that a long time.”

You did it!
For when kids achieve a task that was difficult or time consuming.
Mom, I built this Lego boat all by myself!
Mom, I finished the puzzle!
You can also add something like, “That was hard work!” or, “You sure put in a lot of effort!”

Sometimes you can use all three in a row. Mom, I picked up my room! “Wow, thank you! You sure did!” Followed by a hug or a loving touch. But try not to tack on a “Good job!” Remember that by withholding a good job you’re not ignoring your kids’ accomplishments, you’re just articulating what really makes them special and celebratory. You’re communicating what’s so “good” about these good-job-moments. You’re acknowledging their effort, showing your appreciation, and offering specific feedback while withholding your own judgment.

Because if you’ve communicated accurately and encouragingly, kids inherently know that something they did was “good,” and they’re motivated to do it again. Instead of telling your kids that they just made you feel proud, they decide feel proud of themselves. Their accomplishments, as they should be, are about them, not you.

Find more great ideas for Encouraging Kids in Kelly’s Book:

Book by Kelly Bartlett, Encouraging Words for Kids

Kelly Bartlett is a Certified Positive Discipline Educator and the author of Encouraging Words for Kids, a resource of alternatives to praise. She blogs about her own endeavors in positive parenting at Parenting From Scratch.

You may also like: Encouragement: Building Block #3 for Positive Parenting and Praise is Boring!

7 Responses to Three Alternatives to Saying “Good Job”

  1. Being British and living in America, I hate good job with a passion. It seems to be used for everything here, even when what the children have done isn’t that great. In the realms of ‘super’ and ‘awesome’ it smacks of limited vocabulary and imagination. Hooray for this post.

  2. That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard…children want approval and acceptance from their parents. They want to know that you, their most important person at this point in their lives, thinks what they did was “good” and thay they are “good”. They need it! Sure, say the other things, let them own their good works, but let them know they earned your approval also. “Good job, I like what you did, I am so glad that you are my child!” Enough with the psycho-babble, how about some common sense parenting for a change!

  3. John, thanks for stopping by. While I agree that children want to feel accepted by their parents, they do not really need constant evaluation and praise in order to feel accepted. On the contrary, unconditional acceptance is truly much more important to a child than one that hinges on them doing something well or not. Nowadays many parents say “good job” to everything making it loose it’s actual meaning and creating an atmosphere of constant evaluation. I do find it is more than ok to let our children know we are proud of them, that we love them but also keeping a good balance between encouragement and blanket praise is worthwhile and helps children grow up much more confident in their own abilities.

  4. Thanks for your reply. Let me clarify a couple of my thoughts. I agree that children do not need “constant evaluation”. If the ONLY way they can know if they have done something well is by our words of praise then we are leaving out a big part of our responsibility as parents. That is why I said “say the other things, let them own their good works” like the article suggests. Just not at the expense of the “good job”. I also do not mean to imply that we just throw out a “good job” without meaning it or that we use it for “everything making it lose its actual meaning”. I do not think anything I said was contrary to “unconditional acceptance” toward the child. I agree that “unconditional acceptance is truly much more important to a child than one that hinges on them doing something well or not”. When things don’t go well for them, they need to know, more than ever, that we still accept and love them. I was simply trying to point out that we don’t have to eliminate or feel guilty if we use “good job” or “I am proud of you” nor should we hesitate to use any such phrase of approval when we parent. Kudos to the author for pointing out the need to help children be impressed with their own good choice/act/decision. It is a good point that as busy parents we often stand in need of being reminded of, just not at the expense of another good point like letting them know we approve of what they did. We can love our children unconditionally, mean it when we give praise, tell them when they impress us AND help them see that they are impressive in their own right, independent of what anyone else notices. We are not limited to only doing a couple of these.

  5. John, you know there are way too many things that may cause parental guilt, certainly I hope parents do not ever feel guilty for speaking positively and letting their children know they are proud of them!! I think Kelly’s goal with the post as well as why I invited her to share it here was to give parents that ARE looking for different ways to encourage their children some examples. Too often parenting articles will tell you what NOT to do and then sort of leave you hanging. While each parent can build their own script /tool box and parent as they see fit for their family and needs, many parents want examples if only just to get started and find what works for them. Every few months something will show up in the news and the parenting magazines about praise, the dangers of using it too much or too little and so on… this post is to put in a bit of practical examples for those parents that want to move away from blanket praise or excessive good jobs. I really appreciate your comments and the chance to discuss this!

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