You probably hear—and say—it all the time: “Good job!” Discover why saying good job to kids isn’t good, and what you can say instead.
I’m one of those parents who will say “Good job!” over every little thing, from worthy accomplishments like playing well with his brother to not-so-worthy when I just don’t know what else to say.
It’s understandably why we say “Good job” all the time. We’re proud of our kids and amazed with what they do. We want to promote positive behavior and hope to boost their esteem and confidence.
But could saying “Good job!” and other similar phrases of praise be bad?
In certain cases, yes.
Why saying good job to kids isn’t good
One of the tough parts of parenthood is that, even with good intentions, we can still be saying the wrong things. I’ve long learned not to say things like “Good boy,” no matter how well meaning.
But “Good job” still—to this day—keeps slipping from my mouth. And for the most part, so long as it’s said lovingly, we’re fine. But apparently there are several reasons to avoid saying it if you can help it, plus what to say instead.
Consider the following reasons why it’s not always good to say good job:
Kids can rely too much on our opinion to feel good
We forget that praise, for all its positivity, is still a judgment. It’s normal to say “good job,” but when we say it too often, kids rely on our opinion instead of theirs. They won’t feel excited about finishing a puzzle all on their own. Instead, they’ll turn to us to see if it’s praise-worthy.
Kids lose interest if they stop receiving praise
Giving constant praise is like giving a baby a pacifier. It works, but you’ve got to keep dishing it out to keep the baby quiet. When kids get hooked on praise, they value the praise more than the actual activity they’re doing.
A child won’t paint because the act calms him down or keeps him focused. Instead, he might pick up a paintbrush to get praise from his parents.
We’re making assumptions on how kids should feel
Not all things are “good” to our kids, and saying “Good job” already assumes we know how they should feel. My son and I were blowing bubbles when he said, “I popped a bubble.” Right on cue, my first reaction was to say good job.
But what if popping bubbles wasn’t a good thing? What if he felt disappointed because he’d wanted to keep the bubble intact? In saying “good job,” I already assume he wanted to pop bubble when maybe he didn’t.
Kids feel less secure
Kids feel less secure about themselves when we evaluate their actions as “good” or “bad.” We want them to feel good about themselves and their actions even if no one was around.
How amazing to catch your child holding a drawing she completed, with pride written all over her face! She knows she derives joy from drawing. We don’t need to say good job to confirm whether her work was good or not.
Kids assume the activity is complete
Sometimes our praise signals the end of an activity that wasn’t actually finished yet. Consider the child practicing his writing. You see him hard at work and even catch a few letters and words written on paper. “Good job!” you might tell him. And with that, he assumes that what he just wrote must be good to go. No need to keep at this point.
This is one of those posts I write to myself. Because despite what I know, I still have a habit of saying “good job.”
With so many reasons not to say “Good job,” what should we say instead? Can we still offer praise and support in other ways? Yes—here’s how:
Offer descriptive, not evaluative praise
What’s the difference? Evaluative praise such as “good job,” “I like it!” and “That’s so nice” places judgment on the action. Descriptive praise describes the action. Consider the following descriptive phrases:
“Did you scoop up all your food by yourself?”
“Wow—you’re painting with the orange color.”
“It looks like you’re enjoying your toy.”
“You did it—you slept through the night!”
Descriptive praise still shows support and highlights positive behavior without judging the action. We’re not speaking for our kids but describing what we see.
One of the best ways to keep the conversation going is to ask questions. Ask your daughter how she got all her Lego pieces together to form her latest creation. You’re able to share the moment without telling her what to feel or putting an end to her work.
And the best kinds of questions to ask are open ended ones. Don’t ask, “That’s beautiful! Is that a pirate ship you drew?” Instead ask, “Wow, tell me about your painting!”
Don’t say anything
Once your kiddo has gotten potty training down, there’s no need to say “good job” every time he runs to the toilet. Certain accomplishments like using the potty will become—and should become—normal tasks. There won’t be a need to congratulate him every time.
Save “good job” for when you really mean it
Our kids are going to continue to amaze us, many times when we’re taken aback by what they do. Saying “good job” can still be appropriate and reveal our emotions.
That said, be mindful of when and how often you say “good job” and in what context. You don’t want your child to do something only to turn to you to check of its praise-worthiness. They should learn, play and explore for their own pride and joy.
Choose helpful phrases
One of the ways I’m less patient with my kids is when I’m trying to get them to cooperate.
For anyone who has ever had to convince their kids to do something, you know what I’m talking about. From putting on their shoes already (seriously, why does it take five minutes?!) to not whining because they have to take a bath, it can feel like most of my day is one long nag session.
Authors Rachel Norman and Lauren Tamm know this all too well.
Their book, Helpful Phrases: How to Gain Cooperation from Toddlers and Preschoolers Without Lectures (affiliate link) shares a ton of effective ways to respond to your kids, get them to listen and reduce the power struggles that can often weigh the whole day down.
One of the best lessons I learned from this book was the power of short phrases. Don’t we all sometimes go on and on with our kids, telling them not to do this and that only to have them do it all over again?
Turns out, there are advantages to saying shorter phrases when getting our kids to cooperate.
You’ll also learn which phrases you should be using that will turn your child’s behavior around. I’ve seen my own kids go from defensive and angry to quiet and ready to be comforted, all from changing the way I spoke to them.
If you can relate to the struggle of getting your kids to cooperate and want a better way to communicate with them, this book is for you.
Get more tips:
- Teaching Resilience and Perseverance: How to Raise Kids with Grit
- Here’s How to Address Your Child’s Failures
- Can Praise Be Harmful and Impede Your Child’s Potential?
- 5 Tips to Increase Self Confidence in Kids
- Praise Kids’ Positive Actions
Do you find yourself saying “good job” too often? What praise—evaluative or descriptive—do you tend to offer your kids? Let us know in the comments below!