Teacher Mama: Don’t Say, “Good Job!” Anymore??

I posted this article, 5 Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!” by Alfie Kohn on Boy Mama Teacher Mama’s Facebook Page,  I actually read this article for the first time when I was in college studying to be a teacher (over 20 years ago- yikes!), but it is still very relevant today and even somewhat controversial.

In the article Kohn argues that saying “good job” to your children…

  • is actually a way adults manipulate children into doing what we want them to do.
  • creates praise junkies who are dependent on us and who rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what is good/bad/right/wrong instead of learning from their own judgements.
  • is stealing their pleasure by telling them what to feel instead of simply letting them feel it themselves.
  • actually leads to disinterest in the activity they are doing. Saying, “good job” tells the child that something is not valuable in its own right, but is valuable only for getting recognition from an adult.
  • reduces achievement and causes children to stumble at the next task because of the pressure to keep it up gets in the way of doing so.  They spend their time concentrating on how to continue getting praise and causes them to stop taking the risks necessary to learn and be creative.
Well, what can you say instead?
  • Say nothing!  Silence is golden after all.
  • Say what you saw-– This tells your child that you noticed and still allows him to take pride in what he did. “You put your shoes on by yourself!”  If he does something kind, draw attention to the effect he had on the other person. “Look at Bob’s face! He seems pretty happy that you shared with him.”
  • Talk less and ask more- Instead of telling your child what he did that so impressed you, ask him what him what he likes best in his picture or how he figured out how to draw the hands so well.

Now, you may or may not believe 100% in what Kohn is saying. It makes sense when you read it on paper, but in reality, how much does it really harm my child to them that they are doing a good job?  Well, I took it into my own hands and did a bit of an experiment with my boys. For the past 24 hours, I have made a very concerted effort to NOT say “good job,” but instead to do what Kohn recommends.  Here is what happened.

  • My son cleaned his room this morning (without any prompting). He asked me if he did a good job and I said, “Cleaning your room sure makes it easier to get around and find the things we want to play with?”  He smiled.
  • This afternoon, when my son sat quietly at the bank while I dealt with my transaction, instead of saying, “You did a good job!” I said, “Sitting quietly while I took care of my business, made things much easier for me. Thank you.”  Wow, that took a lot more thought than saying, “Good job,” but the smile on my son’s face was sooooo worth it! On the way home, he kept saying things like,  “Are you proud of me for sitting quietly? Did I do a good job?? Yikes, maybe he IS dependent on my praise. I didn’t panic, instead I simply restated what I said earlier and then said, “How do you feel about what you did?” His answer? “I am proud of myself.”

It is not easy to change the way you talk to your children especially when you are with them 24/7 and the dogs always seem to be barking, some meal has to be made, a diaper always needs changing and the phone is constantly ringing, but try making the change just for a bit and see how it goes.  I am going to continue this challenge and see what happens.  I will let you all know how it goes. If you try it, will you too?

21 thoughts on “Teacher Mama: Don’t Say, “Good Job!” Anymore??

  1. I definitely use “good job” when I am rushed and forgetting to be more thoughtful about the words that I use. I agree that it is so important to be specific and thoughtful in the words that we use with our kids! This post is a great reminder.

  2. I do understand the premise of this, and I have thought about it the message we are sending our children or students when we praise. I do think, however, that the reality of the situation is we are all social creatures. We rely on the responses of others to gauge our way in the world. Outside of the family unit, society will reward a person for doing “it” right. I think overly praising everytime is maybe detrimental. I do agree on emphasizing to the child in lieu of praise also, “How did it make you feel?” So they can rely more on their inner voice instead of relying on the external. I want my child to be the person that “he” wants to be, his inner guidance being a strong influence, and yes, not to be manipulated by the voices of others so much. This article gives me food for thought. Thanks for posting!

  3. Thanks for sharing your personal journey at refining your feedback. I feel like I need Men in Black to use their neuralyizer on me so I can forget all of my bad habits. Reading your examples along with the examples in Opening Minds is really helpful in helping me “reset” my feedback.

  4. I agree with Mari and wouldn\’t want to cut out the praise completely. I do like some of the \”rewording\” that you mentioned, though. My son is two, so he\’s still a bit young to do this with, but it\’s definitely something to think about for the future, once he starts understanding more. I think a nice balance between both praise and what Kohn said would be a happy medium… It wouldn\’t hurt to incorporate some of it, anyway. Thanks for the article.

      • That is a good question. I don’t think that telling an infant, “You slept through the nite. That allowed me some sleep as well” is going to do anyone any good. 🙂 I think around 2+ is a good time. That is what I am doing now with my youngest. He may not totally “get it” yet, but I am laying the groundwork for later. What do you think?

      • Stephanie,
        Sorry that I can’t get this threaded after your response. I agree that two years is probably an age when children can start to comprehend the process feedback. This is good because I have a 3-month old and it will probably take me another 2 years to reprogram myself. I am going to try to begin saying “Thank you” instead of “good job.” I’ll have to say, though, between Grandmas and other adults in a child’s life, even if this mama says “Thank you,” my daughter will hear a plenty of “good job.”

  5. I agree with Mari and wouldn’t want to cut out the praise completely. I do like some of the “rewording” that you mentioned, though. My son is two, so he’s still a bit young to do this with, but it’s definitely something to think about for the future, once he starts understanding more. I think a nice balance between both praise and what Kohn said would be a happy medium… It wouldn’t hurt to incorporate some of it, anyway. Thanks for the article.

  6. Interesting, I believe that every child is different and to apply one method w/ one personality can work and with another it can be detrimental. If he is saying don’t use those 2 specific words “Good job” that is one thing but if he is talking about not praising/affirming our kids then I totally disagree. It’s hard to agree with this article when as a counselor I have had countless sessions w/ students of all ages who are distraught b/c they have not rec’d praise from their parents for most of their life. They devalue themselves, have low self esteem, are starved for affirmation and want it from anyone and sometimes act out as a result…… And in a lot of cases it’s not that they are getting negative messages but in these situations silence is not golden it’s detrimental to the development of a child.

    • Mari, Thanks for your insights. My interpretation is that he does not say no praise at all, but to use it carefully and not to overdo it. I totally agree that all children need praise and feel terrible when I hear about children who are not given any. I think Kohn is operating in bit of a perfect world setting. My hope was to get people thinking about the words they use with children. I think that many wonderful conversations have begun as a result. Thank you for taking part. Stephanie

  7. I looooooove this post! I’m going to share on my FB right now. I agree with not saying “Good job”, and it seems like everyone in my life says it to my kids. Of course they have the best intentions, but it drives me crazy!

  8. Yes, I will try it. Great feedback from your 24-hour experiment. I teach high school (on maternity leave) and I’ve been noticing that more teens are solely looking for that “good job”. This phrase has been so overused that it’s now expected.

    Let’s hope more read Kohn’s writings.

  9. Interesting. I agree for the most part. We don’t do “good girl!” but have used “good job!” instead. I’ll have to evaluate the words and praise I do more. My daughter is just 2, so a little young for this, but maybe I’ll switch to more of a “you did it!” instead. Thanks for the post!

  10. I read this article way back when too and totally agreed with it and still do. “Good job” becomes so rote that it loses its meaning. The other suggestions you gave are so much more meaningful and actually show that you’re paying attention. Thanks for the good reminder. Good job! Oops, I mean, “what you wrote will be so helpful to me as a teacher. Thank you!” 🙂

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