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Why I stopped saying "Good Job"

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

to constantly praise my son. "REALLY, now positive statements are no good for my kid?!?! Goodness, SMH LOL." My first thought and initial response at the mere idea that my praise of "Good Job" just might not be optimal.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

I'll be the first to admit how reluctant I was to thoroughly consider why I should stop saying Good Job, how can something so positive be harmful to my son?! The more I thought about this resistance, the more I saw it was rooted in laziness and comfort. I was comfortable with this phrase and didn't want another thing added to my ever-growing "things to work on list".

Over the years I've had to remind myself less (luckily) that if there's a better way to do something for our kids, what's the harm in trying? Yes sometimes a new way of doing things could cost us time, if it's more time consuming, but if the gains could result in our child achieving their highest self, then the gains simply outweigh the costs...right? That said, I still get lazy at times. Sometimes, it's easier to live without knowing, ignorance is bliss after all. I say this to reassure anyone experiencing are NOT alone.

Once you got clear on your resistance though, you're usually able to move past it. When I did this time around, I dove into praise research and when I learned the psychology behind it all my reaction was simply acceptance - "okay so this is what science says, let's give it a shot." And on top of that I threw in "hell no, I do not want my child putting in work for someone else's approval!" (I explain this further below.)

Two Types of Motivation

See once you really think about it, "good job" is quite generic. What does our kid really pick up from this? Well over the years I've learned psychologists describe it as external motivation. It is a motivation mostly outside themselves to please others (right now that's aka you/parents).

So what's the better option here? Experts call it internal motivation. This has to do with the child's internal evaluation of their own actions. It shifts more of the focus, from the child thinking "I made mommy/daddy happy" to taking pride in their achievement.

Experts say external motivation is ineffective compared to internal motivation. Now in what regard exactly? Well if the goal is for our children to only learn how to please others then this wouldn't apply. However, for most of us...I'm willing to bet what we actually want is for our children to learn to bring happiness to others (this is different from pleasing others), but also much more than that. We want them to learn how to self-evaluate and find gratification and confidence internally, and rather than seek this externally.

When it comes down to it I think we need to just ask ourselves to we want our kids to be constantly looking to us for approval, to potentially grow up to be people pleasers? Or do we want them to learn to make their own assessments and seek validation from within (rather than externally)?

I want to note that I haven't axed Good Job from my vocabulary completely. The overall goal is just to stop saying it so much, I think the occasional Good Job is fine. I like to follow the 80-20 rule you may have heard from experts, if your goal is met 80% of the time, it's enough to make a difference.

What We Can Do Instead

So how do we cultivate this internal motivation? How can we give our kids deserving recognition instead of saying good job? There are so many ways.

To help retain my sanity and make things more digestible for myself (especially on hard days when brain activity is just declining, steeply), I put together QRGs (quick reference guides) for a lot of new things I learn. I take what I learn and apply labels (if there's not already one existing) and some sort of system to streamline things. So whenever I'm able to muster enough energy and motivation I gather all my hot mess of illegible-chicken scratch post it notes into nice, clean categories of QRGs.

So here's my Good Job Replacement QRG in legible ready-to-share format (there's also an abbreviated, more synthesized version on IG):

1. Observe

Simply state what you observe! That's it. This tells your child you noticed and brings their attention to an achievement but not in a way which we give our judgment.