Early on in my education career I had a conversation with a colleague about the use of praise, and how adults simply overdo it when it comes to congratulating a child on an accomplished task.  While the intention of using praise, such as “good job” comes from a place of good intentions, it does not serve the child as he constructs himself in life.

This is precisely the problem with praise, or at least praise aimed at performance. It’s like crack for kids: Once they get, they need it, and they want more. And the real world doesn’t praise them for getting dressed in the morning.
— Jenny Anderson, The New York Times

If the goal is for the child to be a confident being who accomplishes daily tasks for himself, then giving constant praise for tasks is ultimately setting him up for failure.  What the use of “good job” does is not only drive your child to accomplish tasks for yourather than for himself, but they also become empty words when used over and over and over again.

So what does one do, especially when we get so excited for the child when he does accomplish a task, reach a milestone, or paint a glorious picture? 

First off, it is okay to think the words in your head.  I want you to be proud of your child.  I want you to recognize that yes, when he got undressed all by himself he did in fact do a great job at it.  However, do not speak those specific words.  Instead, simply say, “You did it!”

How grand it must feel for the child who has worked tirelessly at a task that for you and I is so simple (i.e. getting dressed), to feel within himself that he did it.  What an opportunity to open up the world to him, making him feel like he can do so much more!

Other phrases that you can use with your child in replace of “Good job”:

State the Obvious
“I see you put on your pants all by yourself.  Now, can you put on your socks too?”

“I see that you used a lot of blue while you were painting.  And look, some circles too.”

“I saw you while you were working with that puzzle, it looked like you were working really hard, and you did it!”

“Look, we made this bread together and it tastes so delicious.  Remember when you poured in the olive oil?”

Bring It Back to the Child
“I see that you ate all your carrots at dinner.  Did they taste good?”

“Wow, you cleaned up your room all by yourself.  It must feel nice to have a clean space to play in now.”

“You put on one shoe.  Now, can you do the other one too?”

"Thank you for getting dressed so quickly this morning."

"Thank you for putting your lunchbox away when we got home."

Get creative and really think about what you say to your child before you say it.  The words you speak, in any given moment, matter much more than one may think.  Choose your words wisely and put value and meaning into what you say. 

Your child will thank you for it later in life, maybe not by his words, but by his actions as he navigates life not looking for praise, because he knows that he can do it for himself, by himself and with confidence.


You can find Jenny Anderson's full article here.