Stop saying “good job!”

We’re starting to curb all those times we say “good job.” And not just “good job,” but every other variant there is out there:

  • “You did that so well!”
  • “That looks beautiful.”
  • “!Que bueno!”
  • “I like how you’re playing so nicely.”

The pattern with that kind of praise is that it’s judgmental, even if it’s positive judgments. In showering my toddler with judgmental praise, we’re training him to rely on our opinion (especially a positive one) to feel good about himself.

Even saying, “You’re so smart/creative!” is detrimental because again it’s a judgment, and secondly, you’re assuming he has these “gifts” within him that he can’t control, instead of effort, which he can. Usually kids who were told they were smart all their lives give up or don’t try as hard when faced with a challenging situation, such as a difficult homework assignment. They become more focused on trying to maintain their “smart” title and are embarrassed to even try a difficult assignment lest they God forbid are actually “dumb.” Kids who are praised for effort know that overcoming a difficult assignment is not solely contingent on their DNA but on the amount of effort and work they put into it.

Another downside of evaluative praise is that it signals an end to a process. “I like your painting!” implies that 1) I like it, and 2) you’ve reached your goal and can now stop.

What to do instead? Give descriptive praise that doesn’t inject opinion:

  • “Wow! You’re painting with the orange color!”
  • “You scooped up all your food by yourself!”
  • “Wow, it looks like you’re enjoying your toy.”
  • “You slept through the night!”

It’s kind of like sportscasting; you’re just saying what’s happening with added encouragement. Descriptive praise helps my toddler find motivation within himself. This will help him find joy in what he does, and not have to seek approval or happiness from others. Descriptive praise also encourages LO to continue doing things we want him to do, such as painting or feeding himself. When he finds his own pride in his work, there’s less nagging to have to do.

My husband and I have been checking each other the past few days in how we praise LO. Even today I still slip and say, “good…” It’s a habit we’re breaking and replacing so that our toddler will build his inner motivation. It’s crazy how easy it is to give evaluative praise and how many times we have to stop mid-word and change our message.

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6 thoughts on “Stop saying “good job!”

  1. Good reminder. I can’t speak highly enough of positive as opposed to negative reinforcement in our experience but its always worth stopping to remind yourself to praise the right thing – the effort, not the result. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  2. So what about Good job picking your toys up? Your still praising the effort while they are doing it not necessarily when the task is finished. I think though some may think this tool is appropriate when used in context:)

    • I think everyone’s different, and whatever works for your kid in the end is really the best. For me, I usually describe what’s happening during the process: “Look at you—you’re picking up your toys all by yourself!” or “Wow, seems like you really like painting with watercolors.”

  3. I had read this tip somewhere before and have noticed my little guy is more calm and confident when I am careful to stick to descriptions. “Ooo, you got out the big brushes today,” keeps him painting and happy. Though my mom really enjoys doing artwork with him, she tends to praise his skills and end his involvement. “You’re doing a good job making circles,” or “You’ve cut a nice straight line” seem to almost freeze him up. He’ll usually stop and say, “No, you do it for me.”
    I don’t mean this to sound patronizing, but I’ve found the same tip applies to adults as well. My husband gets (understandably) annoyed if I say, “You’ve done such a good job on the dishes!” but not if I say, “Wow, you got all the dishes done!”

  4. I hadn’t thought about this until I saw this great post from Teacher Tom on Pinterest:
    Totally agree with dawnhunter that there’s still a place for it, but we can easily overuse it without realising, so it ends up having no value or sounds patronizing as seventhacreheaven said.
    It takes a bit of practice, but if I focus on the fact that I’m modelling a wider range of language to my toddler it’s easier.

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