When to praise your child (and when to skip it)

There’s old parenting advice that tells us to give attention and praise when our kids do something good. Unfortunately, going overboard with “Good Job” may be making things worse, rather than better. Learn why it’s OK not to praise your child for every.little.thing. 

Feel like you're saying a generic "good job" to your child for every little thing? Praise is a good thing, but it can be overdone. Learn why it's ok NOT to say "good job" to your kids.

My kids love to color. They can spend hours creating detailed pictures of people, houses, castles, farms, whatever comes into their imagination.

When they show me these pages, I give them my attention and energy, I notice the details: “Wow, look at the stripes on her dress” or “Oh, that dragon looks mean! Look at those flames!”

But, there are days when they scribble a few lines on the paper or draw a stick figure using only one color. It takes them three seconds. Then, they hold it out for my response.

In the past, I might have said an insincere, “Good job, honey,” but now I say something like, “It looks like you don’t really feel like coloring right now” or a light-hearted: “You really rushed through that one!”

You might be thinking…

That’s mean!

That insults their creativity!

Doesn’t that hurt their feelings?

A few years ago, parents were encouraged to praise everything their child did or said. It was supposed to build their self-esteem. Unfortunately, it does the opposite.

Kids know the difference between hard work and rushed work. When we praise them for rushed work, it doesn’t feel genuine. Your child may begin to feel that you are detached or distanced from them.

It’s OK not to Praise Your Child

Of course, I don’t belittle or criticize them when they choose not to draw a super-detailed picture. I am not mean when I comment on their drawings.

It doesn’t matter to me if they want to color or not, what matters to me is that they feel proud of the work they do, especially when they work hard.

I want my kids to know that I don’t expect perfection and that it’s ok to have an “off” day or to not feel like giving it their all.

I want them to have the words to express these feelings. For example, “I don’t really feel like coloring today” or “This is not my best work, I just feel like scribbling.”

And – they don’t need to do anything to please ME!

Alfie Kohn describes it this way (in this post)

I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, “Good job!” because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, “I did it!” (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, “Was that good?”

It’s a relief, actually…

I see approximately 5,476 coloring pages a day. Responding with an enthusiastic “good job!” to each one would be exhausting. Plus, I can be honest. I don’t have to fake a smile or give an insincere compliment.

It’s the same when they are jumping off the monkey bars or riding their bikes. I’m present with them, but I don’t go overboard with enthusiasm and “good jobs” over something they’ve done 100 times before. Instead, I notice the effort, the energy or maybe just give a supportive smile.

Don’t stop encouraging your children!

Praise and encouragement are not bad. Kids need to know that we’re on their side, they need to feel connected to us, and that we believe in them and their abilities.

But, the phrase “good job” is overused, so here are 50 ways to say “good job,” without saying “good job.”

Then, step back and watch your children grow in confidence and pride in their hard work!

Nicole Schwarz (couch 3)

Welcome! I'm Nicole Schwarz.

I'm a Parent Coach, Licensed Therapist and Author of It Starts with You. I help stressed, overwhelmed, confused parents find calm, confidence and connection with their kids. No one is expecting perfection here. But, if you’re willing to examine your parenting, find encouragement, or try something new, this is the place for you.

Comments have been turned off to retain the privacy of all families. If you have a question or comment on the topic, you're always welcome to contact me.