What We Should Be Telling Kids Instead Of “Good Job”

What do you say to your kid when they do a cartwheel for the first time or bring home some mediocre artwork? Most of us toss out a “Good job!” without really thinking about it. It seems like the right thing to say to offer encouragement and positive reinforcement, right? But parenting experts caution that over time, all those non-specific “good job” comments may do more harm than good.

Parenting researcherAlfie Kohnexplains that rather than boosting a child’s self-esteem, that phrase may increase kids’ dependence on us and lead them to look for our approval instead of form their own judgements. But if we don’t say “Good job,” what should we tell them instead?Try these alternatives:

  • Describe what you see- A simple statement like “You did it!” or “You brushed your teeth by yourself” shows you noticed their achievement and invites them to take pride in it.
  • State the features of their work- When they show you their art, comment on the colors or dominant features, like “That sun is wearing sunglasses!” or “I see you used a lot of blue today.”
  • Ask questions- Get them talking by asking things like “What was the hardest part of building this Lego structure?” or “How did you choose this color for the house?”
  • Praise effort, not results- Acknowledge their work with observations like, “You are really concentrating,” or “You ran so hard for that goal.”
  • Point out their effect on others- If your kid does something kind for someone else, instead of focusing on how you feel about it, shift to the impact it had on the other person by saying something like, “Wow, Max looks so happy you shared with him!”
  • Other phrases to try include:
    • “You worked so hard on that”
    • “You are getting really good at …”
    • “That is so creative / That took a lot of imagination”
    • “What is your favorite part of what you made?”
    • “That was very thoughtful/brave.”
    • “I can see you are really trying to make a good choice.”


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