10 Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job


I thought I was helping our 5-year-old son when I praised him for tying his shoelaces into knots and tangles. He had been working on the whole bow-tying drill with some frustration for days and, well, I wanted to encourage him for his efforts.
“Well done, you tied your shoes!” I said to him as he walked into the kitchen staring speculatively down at his feet with the snarl of laces.
He stopped and gave me a withering look.
“This is NOT how I tie my shoes,” he said. “This is how I LEARN to tie my shoes,” and he took himself into his room, away from my cheery praise to work on the trick privately.
Just as he should.
A growing body of research is finding that praise, particularly praise that focuses on the person and not the effort, countermands the whole healthy esteem thing we parents love to focus on. Strong efforts, good results, and a sense of accomplishment are powerful motivators enough without the enthusiastic parental cheerleading on the sidelines. This does not mean encouragement when it is specific and deserved does not have a place, it does and it can make a real difference, but like candy and TV, a little bit can go a long way.

Here are 10 good reasons to skip the daily lavish praise:

1. Even good feedback is a form of judgment, and judgment inhibits a child’s wild and giddy creative freedom
2. Kids know when they have done a good job, it is self-evident, and they do not need an adult’s observation to make it so
3. It does not build a healthy esteem, in fact it can dismantle it. Researchers have found that students who were generously praised by teachers were more doubtful of their answers and less likely to persevere through difficult problems
4. The only motivation it engenders is for more praise. Praising our kids for things that should be considered normal behavior—clearing the table, being kind, telling the truth—skews behavior to seek praise in all directions or else it is not worth doing
5. Kids are more tentative about making mistakes when they feel someone is grading them, and the freedom to make mistakes leads to true discovery and wonder
6. You will lose the opportunity for genuine encouragement. If everything is a good job, then the scribble is equal to the drawing she worked long and hard on and that’s just not right
7. The words good job are weak and lack specificity. What is a good job? The time spent? The effort? The way he did not give up? Then say so. Focusing on the effort and being specific with our praise can hit a home run. You worked hard on that. You climbed the tree! You did not give up even when it looked hopeless, is praise with muscle
8. Kids who regularly receive praise are less likely to develop good self-evaluation skills where they consider what they did, how they did it, and where it got them. This is critical for social, academic, and spiritual growth
9. All kids need a healthy daily dose of benign neglect where their behavior and efforts go unnoticed. This frees them to work the world into manageable pieces and rightfully feel empowered for doing so
10. It does not develop inner motivation, it makes your child more and more reliant on an adult’s approval, and life lived for the approval of others is a weak and watery world indeed

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