“Good job” may not be the best praise phrase. It may even be harmful.
We all love our kids and we feel proud when they do something amazing. And, of course, we want to let them know how proud we are of them.
We want them to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments. That's why we tell them “good job”.
I remember that it did feel good to hear those words after working hard at a drawing or some other creative venture. But did you know that saying “good job” can be harmful?
I am not a mean mother or a cold person; in fact, I am the opposite. I love my children very much, but they are not just “children” to me.
They are future adults. How amazing is it that we get to raise the next generation of adults?
We are powerful in our parenthood. That is why what we say to our kids is so important.
Why “good job” is harmful
Praise feels good as a child, and as an adult, but praise doesn't happen a whole lot as an adult. So, an adult that was raised with the expectation of praise for every, however insignificant, accomplishment might expect this ongoing praise…but it won't likely come.
But, the consequences of frequent praise don't just affect us as adults; it shapes our whole childhood and molds who we become as adults.
There are so many other downsides to excessively praising a child. Here's an example: Johnny is building a tower with blocks.
His father sees him working hard and is filled with pride. Johnny's dad says, “Good job!”.
Johnny immediately stops building and exults in the praise from his dad.
Who knows what Johnny could have built (and learned!) if his dad had simply left him to his task. The praise felt good, though.
And the next time Johnny sits down with his blocks, his gaze is drawn to his father, looking for praise, rather than concentrating on building and being creative. Instead of building a castle, Johnny may stop just a few blocks in, looking for his dad's praise.
Interrupting to praise: another reason “good job” is harmful.
This may seem trivial to many, but this is actually quite important. Not only did Johnny's dad break Johnny's attention, but he also praised him before he was finished with his work.
How did this make Johnny feel? Like half-complete (there is an adult word for that) is good enough?
How will this affect Johnny's adulthood?
“Children’s self worth becomes dependent on how we as adults see them. This is the problem. Children then become dependent on external motivation for behavior rather than engaging in behavior due to intrinsic motivation to complete the task at hand. In other words, children will need to know there will be a reward for doing something rather than doing something for the satisfaction of completing a task or because they enjoy learning.” A bit from Yuliya Fruman.
There is another consideration, as well. If Johnny's dad is so very smitten with everything he does, be it a block tower or a scribbling, how will Johnny react when the rest of the world is not smitten?
There will be people who think his drawings are “neat“, people who just aren't into art and they aren't interested in even looking at his drawings, or there might be people who have profound artistic ability, and they don't think his sketches are good at all.
Again, saying “good job” is harmful.
Has Johnny been taught that everyone should fawn over his artwork? How will he feel when people don't? What will his reaction be?
What “good job” means
Even greater a consequence of praising a child with the words “Good job!” is the focus on the product, rather than the motivation and effort put in.
As a child, I don't remember ever being exceedingly pleased with any Lego tower I built, I just remember having a great time building!
How do we find a balance between letting our children know that we are proud of them and letting them know that the rest of the world might not appreciate everything they create?
Alternatives to saying “good job”
Is praise harming our children? If so, what CAN we say to motivate them to keep going with their endeavors without giving them the impression that everything they do is an infallible work of art?
How can we emphasize the process, rather than the end product?
Here are some responses to replace “Good job!” from a wonderful website, authored by Aubrey Hargis.
“You did it!” This is probably the easiest thing to begin to say to break the “Good Job!” habit.
It's short and sweet and it focuses on the child's efforts, not the finished product.
“I appreciate your hard work!” Again, short, sweet, and focusing on the process instead of the product.
I recommend reading Melissa's article on effective praise for some more great alternatives to “Good job!” here.
My suggestions for avoiding “Good job!”
A few things I say to my children are:
“I saw you working hard on that! Tell me about what you made!”
“That's a great big building! Who lives there? What kind of things happen in there?”
“Thank you for singing that song! It made me feel happy. How did you feel when you were singing it?”
Essentially, what I'm getting at is that we need to move away from excessive praise and praising the end result, instead of the effort.
I will say it again. Our kids might enjoy excessive praise…but we are not raising kids, are we?
As always, I am open to feedback! How do you acknowledge your child's efforts without lavishing them with praise for the results of their efforts?
Do you agree that saying “good job” is harmful?
Cheers and don't forget to subscribe!
Sunday 15th of January 2023
I learned a lot from reading this post. I realised my daughter shies away from whatever she's doing when praised and I say 'Good job' a lot. I wondered why, but now I know the reason. I will do better. Thank you once again.
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Like this post. It is an important topic that is often misunderstood. Thank you for sharing it.