Somehow, somewhere, we all learned “Good Job” and those two simple words are what I most often hear parents saying to affirm their children. So my challenge is to resist the temptation. Don’t say it.
Why? “Good Job” is essentially meaningless for a child. It’s non-specific and doesn’t describe what he has done or how he has accomplished it. Developmentally, children need to know those specifics in order to build on them for future successes.
Thus, saying “Good Job” amounts to meaningless praise. Researchers found that “the more we praise children, especially when it is inauthentic and principally a child-rearing or educational strategy, the less kids want to do.” More praise = Less effort. Praise does not foster self-motivation the way specific and true observation can.
“Kindly delivered, honest feedback will demonstrate that you are authentically engaged with your children and that you can perceive when they’re really putting effort in and when they’re not.” –Ron Taffel’s Childhood Unbound
So how do you praise your child (i.e., show your child she really did well) so as to make a real impact on her self-esteem and developmental progress?
1. “You Did It!”
Have you heard your Kindermusik teacher say this just a few times? It’s sort of a mantra at Purple Nest. Sure, “You Did It” doesn’t seem much different than “Good Job” but the impact is much bigger. When you say “You Did It”, you have told a child that he or she actually accomplished something. That’s all children really want, anyway, right—is to be able to do something themselves? For a child, especially a toddler, “You Did It” translates to, “I am successful.”
If you want to make a really big impact, add “You Did It By Yourself.” To a child, that is a huge affirmation.
This is another word you’ve likely heard in Kindermusik. Simply put, scaffolding means taking what your child can already do and then challenging him or her to do it another way. So basically, you are engaging your child by observing and noticing what he or she can do and then, adding a little more. This will foster self-motivation. Here are some examples of what you can say:
- “You are tapping your sticks together. Where else can you tap them?”
- “You found your favorite shirt to wear. Can you find another purple shirt?” (Then, maybe you can progress to, “Which purple shirt would you like to wear today?”)
- “You ate that bite of oatmeal with the spoon. Can you show me how you do that with the eggs?” (the broccoli, soup, the list goes on.)
Describing to your child what he/she is doing could perhaps be a parent’s best tool in getting a child to follow directions, comply with instructions, and be truly self-motivated! Children, especially the “Terrible 2’s” or arguably the “Even worse 3s” want, more than anything else, to do things themselves. What makes these ages so “terrible” is the frustration a child feels: “I want to do it myself” but physically, something just isn’t quite there yet (fine motor, vocabulary, inhibitory control). But a child who has a parent offering descriptions of what he or she can do will have much less frustration and much more awareness of his or her abilities.
So, think of your role as a play-by-play sportscaster. Your job is to narrate exactly what you see your child doing and how he or she is doing it. Begin with “Name, I see you…”
- “I see you… putting your shoe over your toes so carefully.
- “I hear you tapping your sticks very fast.
- “I see you lining up your toys in a straight line.”
What you’re doing here is giving your child awareness of her abilities and fostering intrinsic motivation to take it a step further.
As a bonus, you’ll also build your child’s vocabulary and grammar and spoken language skills. The ability to express himself will take him a long way in easing frustrations.
So your challenge is this: Listen to yourself. Catch yourself if ever you say “Good Job.” How often are you saying it? What are you responding to when you say it? What could you replace it with?
Add your comments here about things you say to your child instead of “Good Job.”
This post brought to you by Miss Lisa.