You probably hear and say “Good job!” all the time. Discover why doing so may not be a good idea and what you can say instead.
I’m one of those parents who would say “Good job!” over every little thing. Some are worthy accomplishments like playing well with one another, and others not-so-worthy like when I just don’t know what else to say.
It’s understandable 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 self-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 stopped myself from saying 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 after reading several parenting books, I learned that there are several reasons to avoid saying it if you can help it. Later, I’ll share what we can say instead.
For now, consider the following reasons why it’s not always good to say good job:
1. Kids rely too much on our opinion to feel good
Praise, for all its positivity, is still a judgment. However well-meaning we are with saying “good job,” we run the risk of adding what we think to what our kids do. Done too often, and they begin to rely on our opinion instead of theirs.
Picture the child who climbs the playground structure over and over, each time turning to his mom for approval. He isn’t motivated to climb on his own, but only for her reaction when he does. And when she doesn’t respond in the way he hopes or expects, he might think that he didn’t do a good job.
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2. 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 inserting it in his mouth to keep him quiet.
When kids get hooked on praise, they value the praise more than the actual activity they’re doing. A child won’t build blocks because the act calms him down or keeps him focused. Instead, he might assemble them together to get praise from his parents.
And when they’re not there to provide that praise, he’ll feel less inclined to bring out the blocks. He was more focused on the attention he got than the actual activity of building.
Kids should explore, learn, and create out of sheer joy they find within, not always because someone will be there to clap for them.
3. We make assumptions on how kids should feel
Not all things are “good” to our kids, and saying “Good job” assumes we know how they should feel.
My son and I were playing with a bubble machine when he said, “I popped a bubble.” Right on cue, my first reaction was to say, “Good job!”
Only after seeing his reaction did I realize that he didn’t see popping bubbles as a good thing at all. He had wanted to keep the bubble intact, and was actually disappointed that he’d popped it. In saying “good job,” I already assumed that popping a bubble was a good thing when it was quite the opposite.
4. 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 it is to catch your child holding a drawing he completed, with pride written all over his face! He knows he found joy from drawing. You didn’t need to say “good job” to confirm whether his work was good or not.
5. 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 tell him. And with that, he assumes that what he wrote must be good to go. No need to keep at this point.
We run the risk of capping their activity, especially if they take “good job” as a sign that they should stop.
Different ways to say 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:
1. Offer descriptive, not evaluative, praise
You can still offer praise—just try to keep it descriptive, not evaluative. 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—you’re simply reporting what you see. Take a look at the following descriptive phrases:
“Wow, did you scoop up all your food by yourself?”
“You’re painting with the orange color.”
“It looks like you’re enjoying your new book.”
“You did it—you slept through the night!”
Descriptive praise still supports and highlights positive behavior, but without judging the action. We’re not speaking for our kids but describing what we see.
2. Ask questions
Instead of capping the discussion with “good job,” what if you kept asking questions instead?
One of the best ways to keep the conversation going is to ask questions. Ask your child how she got all her Lego pieces together, or what motivated her to create a puppet. 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!”
3. Don’t say anything
Don’t feel compelled to praise every little thing your child has done. This diminishes the value of the praise and is unsustainable in the long run.
Let’s say he’s gotten the hang of potty training. There’s no need to say “good job” every time he runs to the toilet after a while. Certain accomplishments like using the potty will become—and should become—normal tasks. There won’t be a need to congratulate him every time.
Instead, focus on new accomplishments, offering descriptive praise that highlights his efforts.
Saying “good job” will still happen, especially when you’re taken aback by what your child is able to do. That said, we’ve learned several reasons why it shouldn’t be your default phrase for everything.
You run the risk that your child will rely on your opinion to feel good about himself. He might lose interest or regress when he stops receiving praise. You assume that the act is good when it may not be what he thinks or feels.
He might think that everything he does is good or bad, and he might even think that an activity is finished once he hears “good job.”
Instead of saying “good job” all the time, offer descriptive praise that describes and narrates what he does. As open-ended questions to get him excited about what he has done and share his strategies and motivation.
And finally, don’t feel compelled to say anything at all—you shouldn’t feel pressured to offer praise over every little thing.
Saying “good job” isn’t the end of the world, but it’s good to know that we don’t have to say it all the time to keep them motivated or offer our support. And especially when we just don’t know what else to say.
Get more tips:
- Characteristics of a Resilient Child
- Here’s How to Address Your Child’s Failures
- Can Praise Be Harmful and Impede Your Child’s Potential?
- The Real Reasons Your 4 Year Old Won’t Poop on the Potty
- Top 7 Ways to Make Parenting Toddlers Easier
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