There was a time when parents were told to praise their child’s every move as a way of building their self-esteem. Not knowing exactly how to do this, many parents resorted to the phrase “good job.”
This generic phrase has long lost its motivating incentive.
Unfortunately, many parents and teachers continue to use this phrase with their children. Some parents believe that their children wouldn’t do the desired activity without some verbal praise. Others believe that they need to reinforce it in order to see the behavior again.
Saying “good job” is not bad, however, it may not be accomplishing the goals you have in mind.
Author Alfie Kohn talks about some of the downsides to using the phrase “Good Job” with children: it can be used to “manipulate” them to complete a task, it can turn kids into “praise junkies,” it can steal a child’s pleasure, cause them to lose interest in an activity and reduce their sense of achievement. (Read the full post here.)
Probably not what you were intending.
Still, you don’t have to be stoic, non-encouraging, and monotone robots with no feelings.
One way to encourage your children – without over-relying on “Good Job” – is to use phrases that put the emphasis on the effort your child made, the qualities your child possesses, or simply making an observation.
Think of your words as your child’s inner voice.
You want them to learn things about themselves and maybe even repeat these phrases even when you are not around.
But more than anything, your kids just want to be loved and connected to you.
What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise – it’s the opposite of praise. “Good job!” is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us.” – Alfie Kohn
In case you’re stuck, here are some suggestions.
50 Alternatives to “Good Job”:
1. You worked hard on that project
2. You put a lot of detail into your picture
3. That took a lot of patience
4. Your studying really paid off
5. That shows dedication
6. You are really getting good at printing your name
7. You colored the sky blue and the house purple (describe what you see)
8. That took a lot of imagination
9. That was a brave decision
10. You really demonstrated good sportsmanship tonight
11. How creative
12. You guys worked together to repair the fort, great teamwork!
13. What a responsible choice
14. Speaking up for a friend shows a lot of courage
15. Can you tell me more about your drawing?
16. I noticed that the towels were folded so neatly
17. Thank You!
18. You can do it!
20. Returning the money you found shows that you are honest
21. You were very respectful talking to Mrs. Johnson tonight
23. This is a big test, you are managing your study time wisely
24. You did it!
25. You are learning to balance on one foot
26. Amanda smiled when you gave her that toy
27. You’ve been working hard on this book report tonight
29. You look excited!
30. Which part do you like the best?
31. Can you show me how you built this lego tower?
32. Sharing your ice-cream with your sister was a very considerate thing to do
33. That is a tough piano piece, you are making a lot of progress
34. You are skipping around the living room
35. You finished your first chapter book!
36. You set a good example for the other students in the class
38. This “A” shows just how much time and effort you put into this project
39. All of the books are put back onto the shelf
40. You finished that in record time
41. Thank you for being so patient with your sister
42. That was very thoughtful
43. I’m amazed by your ability to write such moving poems
44. You are thinking through your choices
45. That shows your strength
46. We couldn’t have done it without you
47. You are using your imagination
48. What a beautiful smile
49. You did that all by yourself!
50. When in doubt, silence is OK too. We don’t have to verbally praise every single thing our kids do.
Putting Non-“Good Job” phrases it into action
Notice how many times you use the phrase, “Good Job” with your kids this week.
Next, try to replace a few of those statements with one of these suggestions.
Remember, you do not have to praise everything your child does, says or creates. Pick the things that really stand out or emphasize their character.
Observe your child’s response. Do you notice a sense of personal accomplishment? Do you hear them repeating these phrases without your prompting? Do you notice an inner motivation that you didn’t see before?
Need more support?
If you’re intrigued but still kind of confused about using praise – or communication in general – with your kids, let’s talk. I offer personalized parent coaching to parents around the world and I would love to work with you. Learn more about Parent Coaching and schedule your first appointment today!
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