It wasn’t until recently that I noticed I tell my son, “Good job” a lot…
We’ve been traveling and we are around many new families with children, and I started realizing the words ‘Good Job’ frequently exit my mouth in the direction of my one year old. I also started realizing other parents weren’t really doing this as frequently. Overall, I felt like something we off.
It made me wonder, ‘Am I guilty of overpraising my child?’
I’ve never been in the Oh my child is so great camp. I never say things like Oh you’re the smartest…Or you’re the best…Or you’re the greatest… However, I will frankly confess that often times he tries hard at something, and I feel compelled to tell him he made a good effort by using the words, ‘Good job.’ But is that bad?
After doing some research, I learned a lot about praise, its effect on children, and how we can praise effectively without overpraising. Let’s explore.
1. Know when praise is good.
Young children are capable of comprehending praise at face value. What does this mean exactly? When we use the words ‘Good job,’ our baby, pre-toddler, or young toddler takes it as just that…a good job. The world is still black and white to a young child. You say ‘Good job’ and young children simply think ‘I did a good job.’
They don’t think…
- I’m the best.
- I don’t need to try very hard to be good at something.
- I need to do something perfect to get my parent’s attention.
This gave me a bit of relief. Using encouragement and praise for young children is a good thing. Babies and toddlers benefit from praise that encourages them to explore on their own. One study found that 2 year olds, who were offered praise and encouragement while attempting a challenging task, were more likely to tackle challenges with perseverance and persistence in the years to come (Kelley et al 2000).
Personally, I think that’s awesome. I’m a firm believer in teaching young children early problem solving, independence, and emotional fitness. We aren’t bad moms and dads for allowing our young children to figure things out for themselves and then following up with encouragement for effort. We are doing a good thing.
2. Know when praise is bad.
As parents, we want our children to know we got their backs. We want them to know we love them unconditionally. That no matter what, we think they are amazing, smart and so, so wonderful. If you feel that way, I’m so with you there!
However, it’s important to know that while young children thrive on praise, older children are capable of interpreting praise incorrectly. Praise should be used with moderation. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t use the phrase ‘good job at all…
Using the phrase ‘good job’ is the least effective since it only provides a momentary good feeling due to positive attention, but does not give any clue as to why it is a ‘good job.’ Instead, we should consider using phrases that directly comments on what our children are doing well. For example, ‘I see you are working very hard to build that tower.’ Or, ‘I noticed you were really trying hard to use your manners at dinner. I really appreciate that.’ Or, ‘I can tell you are making an effort to do really well in school.’
If we continually use the phrase ‘good job,’ we may turn our child into a praise junkie. What does this mean exactly? A child may start to believe he is entitled to praise even when a job is done poorly or a trivial task is completed.
You jumped! Great job!
You ate your dinner. Awesome!
You put your pajamas on! Terrific!
By offering praise for basic daily tasks, we essentially create a type of child, who believes he needs praise for every menial task accomplished. As parents, we want to avoid using praise as a way of communicating ‘I love you’ and start using praise as a way of communicating, ‘You made an excellent effort. I’m so proud of you for trying and completing a challenging task.’
3. Why should we use praise in moderation?
Moderate praise helps children develop a realistic sense of self, better self-esteem, and richer character in the long run. Using praise haphazardly creates a barrier to developing strong character, compassion and morality. And despite our best intentions, overpraising gives our children an over-inflated sense of entitlement and arrogance.
When we praise for the effort and completion of a challenging or new task (based on age and developmental level), we teach our children that trying something new is rewarded and perfection is not expected. We encourage both effort and improvement. Using praise in moderation helps prevent kids from believing our parental praise is not authentic, that intelligence is innate, and that effort is futile. When using praise moderately, we also teach our kids that failure is okay and that you can still persevere and succeed even if the outcome is different than the original goal.
4. What exactly is worthy of praise?
Praising a child for accomplishing a basic daily task that should be expected for a given developmental level is over-praise. For example, praising your child for finishing a meal or going to the bathroom or going to bed on time when they should be capable of such a task is over-praising.
Praise is most appropriate when a child demonstrates a strong effort throughout a given task and actually completes the task. For example, your child participated in family game night, followed the rules, played the game until the end and demonstrated a happy spirit and positive attitude. That is something truly worthy of praise. ‘I’m so proud you were a good team player during family game night. You did a great job finishing the game.’
On the contrary, moving a game piece correctly or winning the game are examples in which we might consider withholding praise. Praising a trivial task that is repeated throughout the game or praising the perfection of winning are areas of praise that may lead our children into troubled waters.
Overall, the best take home message is that both praise and encouragement require moderation and restraint in order to be effective. Just as a child who is spoiled with toys and treats loses interest in a small piece of candy or a basic toy, a child who is praised for every little task will eventually need endless praise to get him motivated. Using praise correctly, given a child’s age and developmental level, we can foster a healthy sense of self-esteem, character, and self-motivation.
Want more on practical & purposeful parenting?
What do you think about praise in moderation? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!
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