More ways I’ve been parenting wrong: whats wrong with “Good Job!”?

In wandering the internet a couple days ago, I discovered another way I have been parenting wrong.  Aargh!  And there were studies.  Double Argh!!

Apparently I shouldn’t be saying “Good Job!” all the time.  This article explains how using “good job!”, and other equivalent positive reinforcements, will make my child into a dependent, timid, apathetic praise junkie with no internal moral compass. And I’ll steal his joy.  Triple Argh!!!

Since I read this, I’ve been paying attention to how often I say “Good Job!”

I say it a lot.

Now I am internally cringing whenever I say it.  As opposed to actually not saying it.  Haven’t managed that yet….

At least the guy provided some options for what else we SHOULD be saying.  I posted them here for those of you pressed for time (and so I can reference them easily as I try to go in to “Good Job!” recovery):

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

* Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be “reinforced” because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.

* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement (“You put your shoes on by yourself” or even just “You did it”) tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: “This mountain is huge!” “Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!”

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: “Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack.” This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking “What was the hardest part to draw?” or “How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?” is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying “Good job!”, as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful…….. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.


Copyright © 2001 by Alfie Kohn.

Have any of you discovered a parenting practice you found out you shouldn’t be doing?  I’d love to hear about it (maybe I need to stop doing it too…)  Good luck on your habit breaking!

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