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 are 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 by 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 excessive praise do more harm than good?
In certain cases, yes.
Why saying “good job” to kids isn’t good
One of the tough parts of good parenting is that, even with well-meaning intentions, we can still be saying the wrong things.
But, to this day, I have a knee-jerk tendency to say “good job.” And for the most part, so long as it’s said lovingly, doing so isn’t the end of the world. 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 monkey bars at the playground over and over, each time turning to her mom for approval. She isn’t motivated to climb on her own, but only for her reaction when she does. And when she doesn’t respond in the way she hopes or expects, she might think that she 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 her mouth to keep her quiet.
When kids get hooked on praise, they value it more than the actual activity they’re doing. A child won’t solve a puzzle because the act calms her down, keeps her focused, or gives her delight. Instead, she might assemble them to get praise from her parents.
And when they’re not there to provide that praise, she might feel less enjoyment and isn’t inclined to bring out the blocks. She was more focused on the attention and approval of others she got than the actual activity.
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 about 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 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 and satisfaction written all over his face! He knows he found joy in 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 the use of praise signals the end of an activity that wasn’t actually finished yet.
Consider the child writing a story. You see him hard at work and even catch a few letters and words written on paper. “Good job!” you tell him, assuming that that was his final work. And with that, he figures that what he wrote must be good to go and stops.
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 unconditional support when we see a positive outcome? 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 is a type of praise that places our own judgments on the action. Examples include:
- “Good job”
- “I like it!”
- “That’s so nice.”
Descriptive praise describes the action—you’re simply reporting what you see. Examples include:
- “Wow, did you load your dishes in the dishwasher all by yourself?”
- “You’re painting with the orange color.”
- “It looks like you’re enjoying your new book.”
- “You did it—you put on your jacket!”
The main takeaway? Descriptive praise still supports and highlights positive behavior and a sense of accomplishment, but without judging the action. We can encourage a growth mindset simply by describing what we see rather than expressing our opinions.
2. Ask questions
Instead of capping the discussion with “good job,” what if you kept asking questions instead?
One of the best ways to praise children’s work is to ask questions in sincere ways. Ask your child how she got all her building blocks together to form a tall tower, or what motivated her to create a puppet. Talk about what was the most fun part when creating her chalk drawing, or how she got the ball through the hoops.
Encouraging children is still possible without telling them what to feel or putting an end to their 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!” This develops the intrinsic motivation that keeps her going and motivates her to try new things, regardless of praise.
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 or going down the slide. There’s no need to say “good job” every time he runs to the toilet or after the 100th time he slid. Certain accomplishments and once-difficult tasks will become normal. There won’t be a need to congratulate him every time.
Instead, focus on new accomplishments, offering descriptive praise that highlights his own efforts, willingness, and creative process.
Saying “good job” can still be a knee-jerk reaction, especially when you take pride in what your child can 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 might assume that all is good when that’s not how your child feels or thinks.
He might even believe that he did a bad job if he doesn’t hear your praise, or assume 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. Ask 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, offer our support, or encourage perseverance. 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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