When your toddler does something well your first instinct is to tell your child, “Good Job.” Because, your child did a good job, right? Your toddler smiles, because you smile. Everything is great, right? You are giving your child positive reinforcements by praising them and everything is great. However, your toddler turns into a child. They color a beautiful picture and you say, “good job!” But now that your child is older they wonder, “what does that even mean?”
Your child realizes that you might be saying cliché positive reinforcements, because they don’t know what else to say. Your child is starting to want you to be specific about what they are doing that is so great. You may think you are doing your job as a parent by saying, “good job” but you are not. You could actually be lowering their self-esteem.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is how we view ourselves. It is how we perceive our value in the world. If we have a high self-esteem, we consider ourselves to be valuable.
Why do parents say “Good Job?”
Parents want their child to have high self-esteem, because it affects every aspect of their life. It affects their trust in others, their relationships and even their work. Parents are going to try to do everything they can to improve their children’s self-esteem. If children have low self-esteem it can debilitate them and it will stop them from achieving their full potential. Some of the effects of low self-esteem are feelings of unworthiness, negative view of life, a perfectionist attitude, mistrusting others, blaming behavior, fear of taking risks, feelings of being unloved and unlovable, dependence and fear of being ridiculed.
Positive self-esteem will give our children strength and flexibility to change their life and grow from their mistakes. Some of the outward signs of having positive self- esteem are confidence, self-direction, non-blaming behavior, an awareness of personal strengths, an ability to make mistakes and learn from them, an ability to accept mistakes from others, optimism, an ability to solve problems, an independent and cooperative attitude, feeling comfortable with a wide range of emotions, an ability to trust others, a good sense of personal limitations, good self-care, and the ability to say no.
Parents know that they need to help their children improve their self-esteem, so they try to give them positive reinforcements. However, many parents don’t know how to build their children’s self-esteem and sometimes all they say is, “good job.”
Parents have good intentions when they give their children a thumbs up or say the typical “atta boy.” They try to increase their children’s feelings of competence and motivation, and to even promote healthy self-esteem. In all actuality, researchers have cautioned that maybe praising children in mindless praises are counterproductive to building children’s self-esteem. In fact, it may decrease their child’s self-esteem.
Children experience several consequences of parents constantly giving praise that is not accompanied by substance. Some of these consequences include addicted to Praise, manipulated to praise and frightened of fear.
Addicted to Praise
When children are praised on a regular basis they can lose the ability to reflect on the process and have self-evaluation. Children will start setting themselves up to be praised by talking down about themselves. For example, a child may say. “Oh my gosh my picture is terrible” in hopes that their parent say something like, “that pictures is the prettiest picture.” Children can turn into “pleasers” and only doing activities for their parents to tell them how great they are.
Manipulated to Praise
Giving children praise by saying things like, “good job,” the adult is trying to get children to duplicate the action that they were performing to receive that congratulations. The praise is used to persuade others to comply with a desired action. Parents are known to use praise to control children’s behavior. There are several reasons why manipulating your children with praise is bad. First, children might catch onto the situation and try to manipulate their parents into giving them more rewards for the desired behavior. Second, may also breed resistance. Children tend to resist things, it’s in their nature. Praise can actually lead to behavior that is opposite of what adults are looking for. Finally, children may become conditioned to doing things to satisfy adults.
Frightened of Fear
Praise can actually inhibit children from challenging themselves with more complex activities, because they fear that they aren’t going to meet their parent’s expectations. Sometimes children quit while they are ahead.
Alternatives to saying “Good Job”
- Make observation based on fact!
- “You did it all on your own!”
- “That took it a long time and never stopped even when it got complicating!”
- “Wow you made (tell them exactly what they made i.e. Building, drawing, sculpture)
- “You wanted to do/make (insert goal of child here) and you succeeded!”
Praise Using Your Emotions (but be specific)
- “I really enjoy doing this with you, because x”
- “I love watching you draw/create/build/help me?”
- “I am so proud to be your mom.”
- “Look how happy everybody is when you x”
Say thank you to your child when you are truly thankful for their actions
- “I love when you…”
- “It’s nice when you…”
- “I appreciate when you…”
- “I am really happy that you did…”
- Encourage Continual Learning and Create Conversation
- “Can you teach me how to do that?”
- “Can you tell me about it?”
- “Can you show me that again?”
- “What was your favorite part about (fill in blank)?
- “How did you think of that idea?”