Grandma Sonia was at the playground with her daughter, watching her grandson navigate the play structure. He was concentrating hard, carefully placing each hand and foot to go up the pretend rock climbing wall. When he made it to the top and turned to beam at his mother and grandmother, Sonia crowed, “Good job!”
“Mom, we don’t say ‛good job’,” said her daughter.
“What the heck?” thought Sonia. But instead of saying that, she asked her daughter to share the reasons behind the philosophy.
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation—or maybe you haven’t yet, but will someday soon! Many parents are familiar with research which shows that rewarding kids with phrases like “Good job!” can have a negative effect on their self-worth. Alfie Kohn, a researcher and lecturer on human behavior, education, and parenting, lists five reasons that “good job” should be eliminated from adults’ vocabulary.
For many of us, a “Good job” falls off our lips every time our grandchild does anything! Even knowing that it can undermine their development isn’t enough to curb our desire to provide positive feedback.
What to say instead of “Good Job”
If you Google alternatives to saying “good job”, you will stumble upon multiple blog posts and articles. Many of them, however, offer alternatives that are basically the same thing: offering value judgements for a child’s action or achievement. I try to keep my reactions to one of these things:
Offering a comment that is pure commentary. “The blocks are all picked up!” or “We can read a story now that you’ve brushed your teeth” shows that I’ve noticed without offering my own judgement.
Showing gratitude. “Thanks for showing me your picture!” or a simple “Thank you” when a child follows directions reinforces good manners and acknowledges their effort without praising it.
Asking questions. “How did you get those cars cleaned up so fast?” or “Can you tell me more about the house you drew?” helps them reinforce their own effort, rather than offering external validation.
Saying nothing. Instead of praising your grandchild next time they accomplish something, watch their face instead. If they look to you for validation, smile and say nothing. A child who successfully assembled a jigsaw puzzle already knows they did a good job—the completed puzzle proves it.
Maybe it’s okay if grandparents say “Good job!”?
If you spend a lot of time with your grandchildren, it’s important to cooperate with parents on subjects like this. If they would like you to avoid offering excess praise, you’ll want to practice the alternatives. It’s not easy, but it becomes more natural with practice.
If you don’t see your grandchildren often, I’d argue that frequent praise is not only okay, but possibly healthy for your relationship with your grandchild. Studies on the grandparent-grandchild relationship have shown that children will actively seek out advice and support from a grandparent they viewed as an uncritical advocate. Showing enthusiasm for their accomplishments is just one way to let them know you are always on their side.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your experience or opinion in the comments!
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