**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 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.
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:
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.
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