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Moving past “GOOD JOB!!!”

Hang around any playground, playgroup, or place where kids are playing and I guarantee you, within 3 minutes you will hear the most common phrase said to children – “GOOD JOB!”

“Good Job!” – The parenting stamp of approval – “yes, I see what you are doing and I approve”.   What the heck does it mean and why do we use it so much??

Let’s talk about “Good Job”.  Most times, when you hear it, parents want to encourage or recognize a child’s effort or behaviour – the intention is true and honest.

“Mommy, look at this picture I drew!”  ~~~  “GOOD JOB!”

“Daddy, I can ride my bike!” ~~~  “GOOD JOB!”

“Grandma, I put shoes on by myself!” ~~~ “GOOD JOB!”

Now, before any one gets their hackles up, I am not saying that it is not important to support and encourage our children. What is important is that we rephrase the praise.  There are key differences between praise and encouragement. Praise suggests closure or focus on the product while encouragement suggests focus on the process and the skills and abilities being used and developed.

Alfie Kohn, a parenting expert whose work I love, wrote a very interesting article “5 Reasons to STOP Saying GOOD JOB!”  In the article, Kohn goes so far as to suggest that uttering “Good Job” does more harm than good.

First of all, our children are hungry for our approval – and a “good job” may be delivered for something that makes our life a little easier.

Are we manipulating our children?  We humans can be negotiators and manipulators by nature. Sometimes, just sometimes, doesn’t that “Good Job” make our lives a little easier now and in the future?  “Good Job” for cleaning your room (“so I didn’t trip on toys!”), “Good Job” putting your clean clothes away (“so I didn’t have to do it!”),  “Good Job” for not wetting the bed last night (like that was a choice)…

Now I am not saying that all compliments and expressions of excitement are bad and that you are doing harm if you let a “Good Job” leak out.  Odds are your heart is in the right place.  Just maybe spend a little time thinking about the motives behind blurting out that parenting crutch.

And sometimes a “Good Job” will actually steal a child’s own pleasure.  If they are creating a picture; you drift in, deliver a “good job”, and then drift out.  Now your child will most likely stop creating (Oh, I guess I’m done) and has been told how to feel about their picture.

Every time you say “good job”, is there an option to say “bad job”?

“Daddy, look at my picture!”

“Oh, bad job, you didn’t stay in the lines there… What is that anyways?  A dragon? A cloud?  Oh, it’s a Monster Truck?  Really?  Well, I’ve seen Monster Trucks and they do not look like that – That’s a bad job.”

This is a harsh comparison but I hope it is strong enough to be memorable.

With all of our “Good Jobs” and it’s 2 cousins “Atta-boy” and “nice work!”, we may be creating a praise ‘junkie’.   A child that craves our approval for everything they do is then constantly looking for ways to get it.  A “Good Job” here or there can get them through a day, but they seldom learn to look within for reward or enjoyment.

When you feel the “Good Job!” urge about to strike, stop and remember these 3 amazing alternatives…

Say NOTHING – Just enjoy the moment with your child,  let them decide how to feel.

Say What you Saw – Talk about what you are seeing.  Talk about the journey or process not the end result.  If your child draws a picture and shows you, talk about what you see. “THAT car has big wheels!” – “Boy, you used a lot of purple on that picture!”

Say Less, Ask More – Get your child talking about the process.   What was the toughest part to draw?  What part is your favourite?  Once a child starts talking (and you are present and genuinely interested), encouragement follows. Let your child get excited about what they are doing/achieving.

To encourage, you must be present… “Good Jobs” tends to leak out most when parents are busy and not really involved in the current play.

Please don’t beat yourself up or scold your spouse when a “Good Job” slips out.   An honest genuine expression may be better than no reaction at all.  You are not a bad parent if you say “Good Job” – we are all “works in progress”.   If it slips out, use it to begin a longer encouraging sentence…

Some families may have a “curse” jar; other families can start having a “Good Job” jar. Try it and you may be amazed how often those parenting crutches are delivered each day.

“Good Job” can be a tough habit to break, but awareness is the key.  Always consider your motive, and the result.   Once you become more aware, you can then begin the ‘retraining’ — moving away from evaluation towards encouragement; focusing on the skills and abilities used on the journey and not the end result.

Like learning a new golf swing, moving past “Good Job” and embracing the language of encouragement may seem awkward at first. With a little practice and support, you will see incredible results, in everything from an increase in your child’s self-esteem to an increase in your own sense of effective parenting.

So there you go, a simple idea that will make you a more effective parent.

Try it tonight after school.  Good Job for reading this all the way to the end!

Until next time…

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Comments

comments

  • Ken Langedyk Feb 21, 2013 Reply

    Good Job! Yeah, we all overuse it. I really like your three suggestions and will try using them more.
    Can I suggest an article on what to do with siblings that contantly fight? How can a parent make a postivie out of this negative?
    Thanks

    • Jeff Feb 25, 2013 Reply

      Hey Ken… thanks for the ideas — siblings fight??? weird — does that still happen in todays world? :) Yes, I will add that to the list of items to reserach and write about! Thanks!

  • doug s. Feb 25, 2013 Reply

    Jefff, great post. Am a big believer in words of encouragement as opposed to praise. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in their book NurtureShock site some pretty eye opening research on the adverse effect of praise – it’s incredible what we intend as positive does to our children’s ability to keep going, try harder, don’t give up. And you’re right the engagement and enjoyment we can get with our children is amazing when we take the time to encourage instead of “suggesting closure or focus on the product.” Appreciated your thoughtfulness and clarity, and encouraging support to your readers.

    • Jeff Feb 25, 2013 Reply

      Hey Doug,
      Thanks for the kind words — praise is so easy to dish out — I almost gave you some right now! The language of encouragement can be awkward and foreign at first — but I have found great success in saying nothing or ‘tell me more about…”
      Thanks for your thoughts! J

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