After reading the title I know what you’re thinking: “What? Praise is bad? I can’t praise my children. This I have to hear.” Okay, here goes. What is the most common praise you hear parents (and teachers and coaches) giving kids at home, on the playground, in class, and on the sports fields? “Good job!”
“Good job” (and other variants such as “Way to go,” “Nice job,” and “That’s great”) have become knee-jerk reactions from parents whenever their kids do something worthy of acknowledgment.
What is the problem with “Good job?” Well, it’s lazy praise, it’s worthless praise, it’s harmful praise. It has no value to children, yet parents have been brainwashed into thinking that it will build their children’s self-esteem. Plus, it is the expedient thing to say.
The reality is that children do not need to be told “good job!” when they have done something well; it’s self-evident. They do need to be told why they did well so they can replicate that behavior in the future to get the same positive outcome.
Children develop a sense of competence by seeing the consequences of their actions, not by being told about the consequences of their actions. Children who are praised for their effort show more interest in learning, demonstrate greater persistence and more enjoyment, attribute their failure to lack of effort and perform well in subsequent achievement activities. Rewarding effort also encouraged them to work harder and to seek new challenges.
So, here are some taker always for how to praise your kids the right way:
- Say what you see. Focus on the details of their work, rather than on an evaluation. “You used a lot of red!” “You made the sun SO big!”. This gives children the sense that their choices matter and their work is noticed.
- Join in their enthusiasm. “You’re so excited!” “I’m so pleased for you.” “You did it!” Rather than judging them to be doing a “good job”, focus on their feeling of accomplishment.
- Focus on the process, not on the outcome. Showing children that we care more about the effort they put in makes it easier for them to take risks and work hard (which eventually lead to higher success rates, anyway) rather than being overwhelmed by the pressure to perform. So when they get an A grade you might say: “You really studied hard for that.” When they paint a beautiful picture: “You’re been focused on mastering that stroke.” And when they play a piece of music: “I know how much you’ve practiced.”
- Focus on their experience, not yours. Show them that the work they do and their achievements are theirs – not done for you or anyone else. So instead of “I’m so proud of you!” You might try: “You must be proud of yourself!” Instead of: “I love what you did!” You could say: “Do you love what you did? I do…”
- Reflect their emotions. See, authentically, what a child’s experiencing and reflect it back for them. “You look tired but satisfied.”, “You were worried you couldn’t manage, but you did!”, and “It’s not easy to do it, but you knew how helpful it was.”
- Thank them! If a child does something for you… helping around the home or gifting you a drawing, thank them as you would an adult. “Thanks so much for keeping your space clean, that’s lovely for all of us.” or “Thanks for getting ready on time – that keeps the day running smoothly.”