If you Google “saying ‘good job’ to kids” (I just did), you will find a plethora of articles telling you not to.
There are as many reasons not to say “good job” as there are articles telling you not to say it, but my main reason is as simple as how it feels: trite, played, canned. I don’t like being told “good job” and I don’t like saying it. There is also the fear of raising praise junkies. I want my kids to learn hard work and success as their own reward, not in order to earn praise. As adults praise becomes scarce. Nobody tells me how wonderful my vacuuming is, and I don’t think I’ve ever been told “good job” for getting to work on time, so we need to prepare kids for the reality of doing things for their intrinsic value instead of external reward.
So what do I say instead? It depends on the topic.
For chores or pitching in around the house a simple “thank you” would suffice. If the child was cheerfully compliant or went above and beyond in his helpfulness, then the thanks could include the specific reason for the thanks or ,”Hey, we really got that done quickly!” Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I’m not sure anyone needs effusive praise for putting stinky socks into the hamper.
For school work, I take a different approach. Recognizing “that was a challenging test” or “you tried your hardest” acknowledges the effort that goes into the work they did. If the project or test is particularly difficult and they put in extra effort, a hearty congratulations is a wonderful way to greet an excellent grade. Sometimes encouragement or recognition of effort and perseverance trumps praise anyway; many children don’t get As on projects or tests, but put in hours of diligent hard work that deserves acknowledgement apart from a grade result.
Better yet, rather than praising, you can simply ask kids questions. Ask the child how hard the test was or how much time the project took. Ask how she feels about what she’s done. Your interest in the details about what your child has done will make her feel even more important than a simple word of praise.
Best of all, when you take a more meaningful approach to recognition of your child’s accomplishment, what you reap is complex and intimate interactions which build trust and bolster the relationship. So next time you’re tempted to throw out the tried and true “good job”, take a second to consider what else you could do or say to create deeper communication and a mutually rewarding conversation about what your child has accomplished.