View Full Version : Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!"

10-10-2006, 02:06 PM
This article is a bit old but it has a lot of good points (forgive me if this has been posted before but I just discovered it). Einstein Never Used Flashcards discusses how praising can often backfire but I think this article actually gives you better pointers as to how to stop saying "Good Job" or other praise (I've really been struggling with this!).



Mom to:
Christopher 12/29/89
Adelaide 8/23/04
Bronwyn 11/9/05


10-10-2006, 03:34 PM
Thank you for sharing this article, it had the most info I'd seen on the "why" behind not using praise. I also thought it was great because there were suggestions on what to say instead, I thought it was so frustraing to be told "don't say this" and then be offered little suggestions on what to replace with. I'm not trying to start a hostile debate...but I am interested in hearing what you all think about this subject. Any experts in child development? BTDT advice?

As for me - I'm no expert but it seems alien to me to not give any praise. Even though I've heard of this before...and agree that I don't want to create a "praise junky"...I still find myself praising my DD.

Wouldn't you create children who don't know how proud their parents are of them if you don't? I'm half Japanese and culturally praise, affection, etc are pretty limited which I think actually causes problems.

Also I have to admit to what the article refers to as "manipulating" DD by telling her "good job" when she does something I want her to continue to do like shares or washes her hands. I think of it as the natural opposite to the admonishments she gets when she does something "bad" like throwing her food on the ground or hitting. She's not truly good or bad in either case, she's just learning what is appropriate and acceptable behavior and what is not. In addition to the praise or admonishment she also gets an explanation. So while I try not to go overboard on the praise (I've seen praise junkies and I don't want DD to be one), I also don't try to avoid praise entirely. Do others skip the praise entirely and just stick to explanations?

Malia (DD is 19 months)

10-10-2006, 04:03 PM
I like Alfie Kohn as well.

We try to not "praise" DS a whole lot. Sure, we do it, but once you get into a different mindset, it isn't that hard to use more objective and fewer subjective comments IMO. I haven't read the articles above yet, but some ideas that I've read about that we use are

-if DS paints a picture, we usually ask him about it. What colors did he use? I may comment that he spent a lot of time working on it. We ask him to tell us about it. He seems to get plenty of pleasure out of that kind of experience vs. us telling him how "beautiful" his painting is for example.

-He'll often run to us and tell us he did xyz by himself. We usually say, "do you feel proud?". Or, "it feels good to do things for yourself doesn't it?" I suppose those things are judgment on some level but I think they are at least a bit more objective than other comments we could make.

-In general, just comment on *what* you see rather than making *judgements* about what you are observing.

It seemed weird to me at first since DH and I were raised in "praise" filled households, but I think there's a lot of value to Alfie Kohn's thoughts. We certainly do praise DS sometimes, but we try to not make that the bulk of what we say. My biggest motivator is that I want him to feel safe about taking risks/trying and "failing" in some way vs. taking the "safe" route in life which might be easier and praise-filled. JMO. That's just *my* personal view of it...not trying to step on toes of anyone w/ a different opinion.

I grew up in a praise kinda house and I don't think I'm scarred or anything ;) I do think I sometimes hesitated to take risks to a degree because I was the "good" kid. My parents still do the praise thing constantly w/ DS and now it drives Dh and I nutty. (everything is "good boy" etc. and it makes me nuts, but they are wonderful grandparents in every other way so I don't say anything ;) )

ETA: I think you can share their enthusiasm by showing an interest in what they did/are doing. I don't think that conveys a cold or uncaring parental attitude. Totally acting disinterested rather than praising would be problem, but making eye contact and letting your child tell you about their accomplishments IMO is a very effective way of sharing your excitement w/ your child without necessarily "praising" their accomplishments.

10-10-2006, 04:31 PM
That was an interesting read, but I am a bit bothered by it at the same time. I recently heard of another parenting workshop that was put on in my area that suggested the 80-20 (or 90-10) rule of positive to negative reinforcement. You should try to speak positively 80/90% of the time and limit your negative to 10/20% of the time. I am sure this suggestion is not foreign, but it is a hard one to work on when you are dealing with a challenging toddler! Now my problem is that when I think of 80%, I assume that praise is a good part of that. How else do you counteract the seemingly challenging aspect of parenting that brings us to be "negative", nagging, etc. 20% of the time? Does that make sense?

10-10-2006, 04:57 PM
On point one she says that it is manipulating children and:
"Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?

Heck Yeh! and what's wrong with that? And exactly what long, in depth conversation am I going to have with my son about potty training or not spilling something all over the place? An yeah, he's a praise junky about potty training, when he's not trying to avoid me because he doesn't want to stop what he is doing to go to the potty. Certainly beats yelling at him for wetting his pants. And, yes, my DH and I have gotten "Good job at pooping!" from DS.

I mean I get her points, but I'm still going to use good job. When I thank my husband for taking out the trash we both know it is not about praise so much as acknowledging it is his chore, he shouldn't really be thanked for doing it, but some times he really doesn't want to and that's when I thank him.

Mom to Harvey
& Eve 6/18/06

10-10-2006, 06:01 PM
I think these things put way too much importance on how things we say affect children. Seriously, I don't understand how saying "good job" is going to scar my children for life. Seems a little over the top to me. So far, we are told not to say "no", not to say "good job", not to say "good girl." Honestly, I don't think these things have that big of an affect on kids.

You can still encourage your child and help them feel proud of their accomplishments even if you say good job. You can explain why they should not do things even after saying no. It's not an all or none deal. Just my two cents.

10-10-2006, 06:05 PM
No time for a huge response here, but not what we are taught in "psychology school!" Praise is great, and you can't really give too much of it. Of course, it has to take place in a context where there is appropriate limit setting and age-appropriate expectations. Praise itself does not cause problems. There's NOTHING wrong with my 5 year-old saying, "I'm a good cleaner-upper. I'm the best cleaner-upper in the house." Which is totally true, btw. And he should feel he's accomplished something and that we're proud every time he picks up a big mess. IMO, praising a child is the first step in the development of good sense of self. They do something you find praise-worthy, you reflect their nascent sense of pride about it, they internalize your "bigger" reaction, and there you have it--the fledgling positive sense of self.

One really important tip is to remember to praise WHAT they do and not who they are. I was taught that you should say, "Good job cleaning up," and not "Good boy. You cleaned up." What you don't want is for a kid to feel like his/her sense of self worth is determined by actions such as how well one shared toys in any one instance, if one pees on the potty, etc.

Sorry--gotta run for bath time.

10-10-2006, 06:06 PM
I like the article, I think I read it a while ago, and I also read Magda Gerber's The Self-Confident Child.

I try to use "you did it!", and it's pretty cute, because when I say it, Alek claps his hands for himself.

I do use good job once in a while too, sometimes it just spills out.

I think both the article and book were helpful, and it was good for me to read the article again, thanks.

Aunt to sweet baby boy
10-10-2006, 07:51 PM
I think the problem is when children are praised for everything and so often that they expect praise for taking a bite of food or sitting down when they were told to. Not that those things are not good or anything but there is a point and when it gets crossed children have trouble. Rather than telling avi he is a good boy when he helped to clean up i tell him thanks for helping to clean, or whatever it is. I do also tell him he did a "good job" but i try not to. I really try to encourage the behavior rather than saying that he is good/bad.


As a side note avi is only 2 and i think that alot of these praise issues start at his age and just increase as children get older.

Ilana, aka Nana to my sweet nephew Avi


10-10-2006, 08:50 PM
This is a big topic in our household right now. DH and I just naturally don't seem to praise much--not because we had a certain philosophy in mind, we just don't. It is funny, though, because if you'd asked me two weeks ago if I thought praise was important, I would have said of course. It wasn't until I read some posts on MDC that I realized how little we actually praise DD and that there might be other reasons for not doing it. There is a lot to be said for leaving room for your child to have their own experience and although I understand the need for feedback, there is also a need to process things internally.

The biggest reason for me to try to avoid praising all the time is that when I say "good job" or something like it, DD's experience is no longer about her, but about my experience of her experience. To me it is similar to when someone tells you about their bad day and you immediately respond with a story of your own--it changes the focus from them to you. I've also noticed that if I praise what she is doing at times, it seems to interrupt the flow of activity. When DD does big stuff, we usually respond with things like "Look at you!".

Of course, in 25 years DD will be telling me how not praising her was bad in some way...

10-10-2006, 10:43 PM
hmm. i am trying to figure out how to participate in the conversation at hand in a productive way. but truly, i am at a loss for words.

seriously? don't tell you kids you are proud of them? SERIOUSLY????????

i think this article is VERY bizarre.

of course, my parents praised me for a job well done and i praise my sons for things that i think are actually well done. i do think their art is beautiful. i do think schuyler is a fast runner. i do think dylan is a good little copycat helper. i can't seem to figure out why it is a problem to say, "i like the way you put your toys away."

forgive me. i guess i am a woman who loves too much.

10-10-2006, 10:45 PM
Hmm. I found this article really interesting. I'm trying to find the parts of it that apply to my parenting philosophy. I tend to be a really gushy, snuggly, praise happy mama! I do think that sometimes I use praise that is too oblique to be truly effective and may even be negative. "Beautiful painting" starts to sound insincere the umpteenth time. I also agree that by praising things like paintings or every single thing that they do it does insert the parent into the equation. However, I think that there are aspects of life that I want to be part of the picture. I personally don't have a problem with my child understanding that mommy expects him to eat neatly, clean up his toys, treat others kindly etc. In some areas I really feel like my way is the best way although I'm sure that some parents will disagree with this philosophy. Other areas, such as artistic ability, physical prowess, his observation of nature I think that I will try the author's suggestions for deep involvement by asking questions about the content rather than offering analysis and generic praise. Thanks for the read!

10-10-2006, 11:17 PM
I've read Alfie Kohn before, but in the context of the classroom. I think that as with any other philosophy, you really have to put it in perspective, and not analyze it to death. I always praise Dora when she does something new (like feed herself with a fork, or doing a new trick) because hey! I want her to do it again! But like one of the pps, I grew up in an Asian household, and actually we received a lot more negative feedback than praise, so think the opposite can be equally damaging.

One thing I learned when I was teaching is that you don't praise a kid unless there's something to really praise. That is (I taught orchestra) you don't tell kids they sound great when they don't. Because deep down they know how they sound, and after a while your words don't mean anything. What would do is offer suggestions, and I would tell them that it sounded much better and exactly why.

However, as the article points out (briefly) with infants through preschool I think praise is a good thing and can help teach kids what is desirable behavior, in the cut and dried sense that is. I do like the alternatives he offered. But I'm still gonna praise Dora when she does something cool!

10-10-2006, 11:22 PM
Very long. :)

I'm not knowledgable about the other points, but in regards to #5 in the article, I've read quite a few studies suggesting that praise can cause children to be less motivated in a task. The reason has a lot to do with the development of achivement motivation. It's complicated and I don't want to get into it too much, but here's the short version (I have references for all of this stuff, but you could also google Carol Dweck - she's one of the main researchers on achievement motivation):

1) People who think of intelligence as stable (that, while you can always learn new things, you cannot change how fundmentally smart you really are) are more likely to give up when faced with failure, not try new things, and not like risking making errors.

2) People who think of intelligence as flexible (that you can work really hard and change your intelligence) are less likely to give up when faced with failure, etc..

3) This is true of even very young kids, such as kindergarten children. Preschool children even have started making strong beliefs about intelligence, too.

So, in response to praise, there may be 2 problems:
1) Children are linking performance with high achievement, which is associated with beliefs that intelligence is stable.

2) Praise for good performance may teach children that failure is a stable trait - that intelligence (or failure) is stable. Such that, when children are not given praise on something, they think that it means that they have failed.

What to do instead: talk about effort. Praising effort is linked to beliefs about intelligence as flexible - that hard work can change outcomes/performance.

That said, I praise Kaylin all the time for performance (good job). It comes naturally. I also think that Alfie Kohn might be more extremist then I would like (and doesn't have any emirical/scientific articles). I don't think that praise is manipulative in a bad way.

But I do conciously think about how to praise effort and trials or how to give her practice at learning from mistakes. In teaching, a great way to teach this is to have a student to do drafts of their term papers. Giving them a second chance to get it right.

Here's the original reference on this praise and achievement motivation work.

Mueller & Dweck (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33-52.

Praise for ability is commonly considered to have beneficial effects on motivation. Contrary to this popular belief, six studies demonstrated that praise for intelligence had more negative consequences for students' achievement motivation than praise for effort. Fifth graders praised for intelligence were found to care more about performance goals relative to learning goals than children praised for effort. After failure, they also displayed less task persistence, less task enjoyment, more low-ability attributions, and worse task performance than children praised for effort. Finally, children praised for intelligence described it as a fixed trait more than children praised for hard work, who believed it to be subject to improvement. These findings have important implications for how achievement is best encouraged, as well as for more theoretical issues, such as the potential cost of performance goals and the socialization of contingent self-worth. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)

I have the full text pdf of that paper if you email me, I can send it to you (that's legal, right?). There are other articles, too.

mommy to Kaylin 6/5/04

and one on the way, due 2/26/07

10-10-2006, 11:26 PM
Great to have your insight, Caroline. Thanks!

10-10-2006, 11:27 PM
a bunch of useless gobbledy-gook IMO. I see the pride and sense of accomplishment that fills DD when I praise her for a new skill. She claps her little hands together and says, "YAY!". I certainly don't praise her for eating her food or cleaning up her toys those behaviors are expected of her. But I do say "thank you for helping clean up." or "thank you for obeying." When she does something cool or new, though, like when she gets her colors right ("what color is your shirt? can you find the red ball?") I say "YOU GOT IT!" and she swells up with joy....i will keep doing this because it feels right. I can't imagine trying to be robotic in my responses and interactions with DD....i don't have time to think about wording things in the way a psychologist would most like me to word them. I interact with DD on a natural level...i am with her, who i really am as a mom...and i'm a praiser I guess!

I may be completely misunderstanding the article, but as I said....it was complete psychobabble nonesense to me and I really didn't understand it that well to begin with....

10-10-2006, 11:49 PM
I'm pretty much in the "all things in moderation" camp. I know I always like a little pat on the back once in a while, I'm sure kids do too. But, I do know that it can easily be overdone, too vague and made to be kind of "empty praise". I'm guilty of that, but I try to work on it. I try to be specific, for example "You shared your favorite pony with your friend today!" instead of "good sharing". It's more reflecting what I see her doing instead of judging it. I just feel like it's a good feeling when you know someone is noticing your effort. Kind of like when DH notices I worked extra hard at a meal or got a haircut, etc.

I like to read these kinds of articles because I almost always walk away with at least one good point to think about.

10-11-2006, 12:05 AM
Thanks, Caroline. I appreciate your post, both for your opinions and for the tips on where to find more information. The lack of citations in the original article was bothering me.

ellies mom
10-11-2006, 12:39 AM
Saying something like "You got it" or "Wow, you did it" isn't the type of praise he is talking about. Actually, it is the type of thing he thinks is ok because you are simply making an observation and allowing your child to attach her own value to what she did. Which is the swelling up with joy that you mentioned. He also thinks that saying something like "Thanks for helping me clean, that made things easier for me" is something that is good to say because it places the focus on the action and how it effects others. What he thinks should be avoided are statements like "you are a good helper" because that is placing the "value" onto the person.

I've read the book the article comes from. It is a really good book in the sense that it gives you a different set of lenses to look through but it definately takes some time to internalize.

10-11-2006, 07:57 AM
I like Alfie Kohn, I've read Unconditional Parenting and agree with a lot of what he says (we don't do time-outs or other punishments like that, nor do we do sticker charts to encourage good behavior), but I can't fully believe in his ideas about praise being bad.

I do make a lot of effort to encourage Colwyn's motivation to be intrinsic. Instead of saying, "You're a good boy for picking up" I say, "Thank you so much for helping me! Now we have more time to play" -- but that comes naturally to me. I really try hard not to say good boy, but I do say good job, you're being a great helper right now (for some reason, this seems different to me than you are a good helper). But for the most part I don't have to think about it.

But I am head over heels in love with my boys, and I get excited when they do something new or cute or funny. And I share that with them. I don't praise them for things I don't have strong feelings towards (eating, doing routine things, etc).. but don't you think that if Colwyn did something neat, and I stifled my reaction, that he'd be able to tell? And what would that show him?

I'm not at all about conforming, so don't take this the wrong way.. but there is a LOT of praise in our society. If my kids are receiving praise from everyone but me.. again, what does that show them? I don't lie to them, but I do show lots of enthusiasm when they've done well. And yes, if Colwyn is drawing circles really well, I'll tell him that they look great. If he's just doing scribbles, I probably don't comment as much about it. That's because he has to try harder at the circles, and I'm proud of him for learning new things. When he was first learning to scribble, I praised him for that, but now he does it well and I don't think he needs reinforcement for that.

10-11-2006, 11:03 AM
While I have a one year old dd, I also have 10 yo and 7 yo daughters...so I thought I'd offer my opinion for what it is worth.

I've given my share of praise over the years (some of it empty, some not) and "good job" is pretty much engrained (sp?) in my everyday vocabulary. And I find that my two oldest really do have a hard time out in the "real world" with making mistakes in school, or not being so great at sports, etc. They take it quite hard. I am really working on focusing on effort with them, and I think they are coming along, but I think if I pulled back on the praise as they were growing up they might have different attitudes now about trying new things, or participating in things that they might not be the best at, or realizing it's ok to have trouble grasping a concept at school, etc.



10-11-2006, 01:16 PM
Thanks Jennifer for posting this. I thought that it was very interesting and I even forwarded it to some of my friends who are expecting.

I think the article made a lot of good points. Sometimes it got a little redundant and 'wordy', sort-of like they were trying to throw some 'fillers' in. But all in all I thought it made a very good point. Too much of anything is never good, and saying 'good job' all the time will make the praise meaningless to your DCs and eventually they will get bored w/ the task at hand. However if you provide praise for what they do specifically it gives them more sense of accomplish, and they will not always look for that approval.

The example w/ the class I found very interesting, I have seen it many times where students do not assert themselves or show confidence in their answers.

Thanks again for the good read.

10-11-2006, 01:40 PM

10-11-2006, 02:37 PM
LOL! This has given me pause to reflect on my marriage of 14 years. My DH must have been raised as a praise junky. Every little thing he does he tells me, and I am expected to acknowledge it. It drives me crazy. Now I know why! I am not going to stop praising my dd, but I think I might start becoming a little more selective on what I praise.

Karin and Katie 10/24/02

10-11-2006, 03:31 PM
Gosh, I don't think the author is suggesting that we ought not to be proud of our children, or excited about their accomplishments, or robotic in our responses to them! For me, saying "good job" or "beautiful picture!" each and every time my DC paint a picture, complete a task, etc, is more robotic than me taking the time to think of a comment that reflects more on their accomplishment, such as "Wow! You used a lot of red in this picture, but in that one you used more blue!" or "You are helping to keep our house clean when you clear your plate!" With a little effort, I can gush and say these things just as enthusiastically as "Good job!"

I've noticed that when I tell DS that his picture is great, he will then continuously ask me "Is this good? Do you like this? Is this a good one?" It makes me notice how important my opinion is to him and that I don't want to abuse that lightly by randomly praising everything he does. I try to be thoughtful in my praise and enthusiasm and am rewarded by his increasing pride in his own accomplishments without needing my feedback.

Just my two cents.

Mama to Jack 6/02 and Maddy 12/04

Babywearing education in Napa, CA

10-11-2006, 05:27 PM
This is an interesting article, but I do have to take issue on a few points.

First of all, it isn't specific enough regarding the age at which you take this approach. I really don't think my 21 month old will benefit from "You used a lot of purple today" when that is the only color she uses. Also, they have to learn right from wrong and good from bad before these concepts could work. I know tone of voice has a lot to do with it, but teaching proper wording has to take place somehow. When our children are so young, they only get a few of the words. This statement in her article makes me question at what age she is suggesting to start with this:

"To be sure, there are times when our evaluations are appropriate and our guidance is necessary -- especially with toddlers and preschoolers."

When DD gets frustrated/upset as the result of something she did, she will sometimes start hitting me (entering the twos and she knows it's not allowed). I tell her to stop hitting and I say, "you did it, not me. Don't hit me." I'm using "You did it", but in a different context. I want her to understand that she has influence over her own consequences, good or bad. Therefore, I don't agree that "you did it" is such a good response. What does that tell your DC? So, they did it. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Now, I do agree that it is important to take this approach with older children - with praise and with punishment. I have two stepdaughters and we have always done this since they were old enough to understand and respond. We ask how they feel about it, what the consequences or rewards are, etc. At the same time, we tell them that they are doing great and that we are proud of them. Kids need that. I think the article is too unclear in that it makes it sound as though "Good job" is a harmful thing to say. It needs to be made clear that it just shouldn't be the only thing. All those other suggestions should go along with the traditional type of praise, IMO. If you only say catch phrases and don't expand on it or have the child actively involved, then I agree with some of the article and the possible results of that. However, I really don't expect my 21 month old to be able to respond when I ask her "So, how does that make you feel?" What? That's just not going to work. I tell DD thank you a lot for what she does, I praise her when she does well and I let her know when her behavior is not acceptable. She needs that guidance now and when she is older, we will add in other aspects of praise and self assessment.

10-11-2006, 09:35 PM
Just wanted to say I've been enjoying reading all of your posts - on both sides of the fence. Good points about the age thing - the article really glossed over that and so did I. DD is quite young so I'm sure my commentary will change as she gets older.


10-11-2006, 09:42 PM
Enjoyed reading this Beth, thanks! I'm going to make an effort to call attention to how DD feels when she accomplishes something - it should also help add to her vocabulary! I hear you on wanting to raise a risk-taker. What I struggle with is fearing they will take it to the extreme...DH and I have been blessed in a lot of ways by (relatively) following the "straight and narrow."


10-11-2006, 09:46 PM
Interesting, didn't take any psych classes but this is what my "gut instinct" was telling me. Thanks for posting.


10-11-2006, 09:54 PM
This is great thanks!! I strongly believe intelligence is flexible and definitely want to teach that to DD. I don't know if anyone will see this but what exactly would praising effort look like? I can see a comment like "You're such a smart girl" would be static. Although to be honest we use this and I still plan to throw it in here and there because of course I think she is. ;) But can someone give me some examples of the other so this clicks for me?


10-17-2006, 07:21 AM
i guess to me, saying, "i like the way you used several colors in this picture" is praise and adding, "i think it is beautiful" is just fine.

ok, nevermind, can't post because captain sensitive is freaking out. sigh.