At school, home, or play children often hear, “Good Job!” Praise at times can be powerful even magical to a child, but when used repeatedly it can also have negative effects on children. Suppose you repeatedly say, “Good job!” to a child after he finishes his vegetables during dinner. Are you suggesting that he should overeat? Is it possible that telling children they’ve done a good job may have more to do with our need to control than offering them the emotional support that they need to foster positive growth and development?
Are we creating young people that yearn for praise? Rather than boosting a child’s self-confidence, are we increasing their dependence on us? The more we say good job, way to go, or high five, the more children may begin to rely on our evaluation and decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning the critical thinking skills needed to make their own healthy decisions.
Children need to feel good about their decisions based on their own judgements. We often force them to feel a certain way based on our praise. If we forget to say, “Good Job!” does that mean it’s an automatic bad job? We must be careful not to pass judgement. A positive judgement doesn’t always come across that it’s positive; it may have negative results.
Repeating these common praise phrases may cause children to become frustrated, sometimes resulting in a loss of interest about what they had initially attempted. They may become out of touch and disengaged. They may begin to focus more on the reaction of the praise giver. The point becomes the “Goody” whether it’s ice-cream, a sticker, or a high Five. Are we creating a culture of people pleasers?
Praise creates pressure to stay on task. Trial and error is a part of life and excessive praise may prevent children from trying new things. They often become results driven and if the praise doesn’t exist, they are not motivated to thrive on.
Praise is powerful so instead of using those common praise phrases, try the following:
- “You painted that picture.” This acknowledges what the child did.
- “You did it.” Highlight what the child did. This tells the child you noticed.
- “What did you like about doing that?” This provides opportunity for the child to talk about his work and develop his own thoughts and sense of pride.
- “You said you couldn’t do it, but you did!”
- “I couldn’t have carried all these bags in without you.” This validates the help the child provided to you.
- “That was kind of you to…..”
- “You helped John zip his coat.”
- “I can see the shapes you drew and you used your favorite colors.” Pay attention to and acknowledge details within the child’s artwork.
You can also simply say nothing; sometimes a simple smile, pat on the back, or fist pump will do. This is especially encouraging for dual-language learners.
Encourage problem-solving by sitting back and observing the child with goal setting
Remember adult acknowledgement is key, resulting in children feeling valued which ultimately encourages, supports and motivates them.