Suppose I were to ask for a show of hands from those of you who have heard it suggested that lavishing praise on a child is an effective way to motivate them and boost their self- esteem. Would your hand go up? I know mine would, as that is something I’ve both heard and tried myself. Honestly it is something I still do on occasion. I feel it’s a very natural response as a parent to want to shout “Good job!” when my child does something impressive or out of pure adoration, exclaim things like, “You are so smart!” ,“You are such a great dancer!” or “Wow what a talented artist you have become!” It wasn’t until reading an article by Alfie Kohn titled, “Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job” that a serious shift in my thinking about praise began. If the title grabs your attention the way it did mine, click on the link provided below for the full article.
I feel there is so much valuable information in Kohn’s writing for parents to consider, process and then use with their own families as they see fit. I wanted to share a small sample of the benefits I saw in my household after I made a few changes based on what I had learned from the article.
One of the first things I noticed after challenging myself to be more conscious of the words I chose when encouraging my children was that I started seeing more genuine excitement from my daughters after they accomplished a task. By going about my day as more of an engaged observer and removing my need to tell them they did something well, they began to let me know they were deciding for themselves how they felt as they would confidently say things like, “Look what I did!” after completing a task (a puzzle, an art project, etc.) with a look of happiness and pride on their faces.
A specific example of this is the experience I had while working on letter formation with my five-year old daughter. She tends to get easily agitated during new activities she finds challenging as she wants to do them perfectly right away. This particular day, I noticed her getting very frustrated while working to write her letters. My natural instinct was to jump in to comfort and support her by reminding her how smart and capable she was. Instead of doing that, this time I tried something different and as Kohn suggested in the article, I offered encouragement and observations based on her efforts instead. She worked longer and harder than she had in the past and seemed much more pleased with her ultimate result.
I also began to enjoy seeing my daughters gain a better understanding of the way their actions affected others. After sharing a toy or snack with one of their friends or cousins instead of checking in with me for a comment of approval such as “That was a great job you did of sharing”, they started coming to me with questions like “Is he happy because I gave him some of my cookie?”
The changes I made with regards to praise benefited me outside my own immediate family as well. After my nephews’ baseball games I noticed that when I said “You played great”, I would just get back a simple “Thanks.” However, if I asked, “What part of the game did you enjoy the most?” or “How did it feel to make that hit?” their faces would light up as they would give their own assessment of the game. In turn, my heart would light up listening to them excitedly share with me.
Even though it was challenging at first to force myself to change the way I gave praise to the children I love, these simple examples reveal that the change brought about many benefits. My hope is that by sharing this article and my experiences, you too may find valuable information to benefit your own family.
Please leave any thoughts, questions, and/or comments below. We look forward to hearing from you!
Kohn, A. (2001). Five reasons to stop saying, “good job!”. Young Children, 56(5), 24–30.