Why We Should Move Beyond Just Saying "Good Job"

August 06, 2022

It's quite common for parents, guardians, and other adults in the lives of children to want to cheer them on, especially when they are trying to tackle something that they haven't done before. What's even more common is the phrase that is used when congratulating a child for being successful: Good job!

There is nothing wrong with wanting to praise your child for stepping out of their comfort zone and doing something new, or for completing a project that they have been working on, but repeating two words over and over does not have the impact on our children that we think it might.

The truth is, we all need to hear that we are doing a good job, but it is more effective, and it feels better, when it's more specific. If a child I'm working with makes a tower, and is really proud of what they have done, I will make a comment on something specific related to the tower, and one to make them think about further possibilities: "It's so tall! How did you get all of the blocks to be that tall?" 

If a child has been working on a piece of artwork and shows it to me I will make a comment about a shape or colour and ask what they are working on so as not to assume I know what it is: "Oh wow! You added a lot of colours to your paper. Tell me about what you made."

Sometimes I don't make a comment at all, but will focus on the emotions of the child: "You seem really proud of the tower that you built. What are you going to do next?". If they ask me if I like their artwork, I will turn the question around and ask what they think about their own work, after which I will add my thoughts.

Really, the conversation is more about making general observations, especially about the effort that the child put into their work or activity, or how they are feeling about what they have done, rather than hollow praise for certain behaviours. 

These kinds of comments make no assumptions about what the child is doing, show them that I value them for more than what they have done, and that I'm genuinely paying attention to their actions. 

The ultimate goal is to get children to help people, complete a task, or try something new because they genuinely want to, not because they are going to be rewarded.

For more reading: Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job" by Alfie Kohn

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