If you have ever set foot inside of a school then undoubtedly you have heard the phrase, “Good job” spoken in excitedly rising tones to praise a student for doing well. But at what? And this is my problem with this exclamatory clichÃ©. It doesn’t provide the child or anyone else for that matter, any bit of detail of why they are being praised in the first place.
Imagine if you were getting your performance appraisal at work and your boss intermittently shouted “Good Job!” to you. You would soon lose patience and walk away thinking someone might have spiked their coffee. I dare say that parroting this phrase repeatedly causes students to tune it out over time as it becomes more and more meaningless.
I am guilty of uttering these words just as much as anyone else. I caught myself the other day in a broken record loop of responding to my son’s every correct answer with an automatic “Good Job” response. I feel I am a victim of my own learned behaviorism.
So what are the alternatives ways to praise a child or student? You want to let them know when they are doing well but how?
Let me count the ways! I will give you my list here which I welcome you to add your suggestions.
- Be more specific in your verbal praise. Say things like, “I like the way you (describe behavior).” For example, if they have cleaned up their room you might say, “I really like the way you picked up all of your clothes from your floor and emptied your trashcan.” If the praise is geared for behavior you can add a “because” in there. For example, “I like the way you helped me with chores because now I have more free time to spend with you.”
- You can also remind children of what they are doing well by creating a visual “Success” poster. I create one for my son’s achievements where I take photos of things he has accomplished and I glue them onto the board. Or I have also had a communication sheet between any of my child’s teachers and therapists where they write what my son has done especially well that week and then I share this information with him.
- Another way to praise is to allow your child the opportunity to learn how to self-evaluate. Provide a check off sheet for certain tasks they have completed. For example you can provide a self-evaluation sheet for completing homework. Such a self-evaluation may have items listed such as: “Checked math answers for accuracy” or “Fixed any spelling errors.” When they are finished with their self-evaluation sit down and go over the list with your child present. Give specific praise for self-monitoring as in “Yes I can see that you went back to correct any mistakes -this is good!”
- Praising the effort a child makes instead of focusing only on the outcome can keep a child motivated to keep going and not give up on the task. Give reminders that they are near their goal as in “You worked really hard today on your project. It is not finished but you are getting there.”
- If you are going to use verbal praise then at least be creative in your phrasing. Use a variety of descriptors so that your student or child doesn’t tune you out. Here is a web site which provides a list of 101 alternatives to saying “Good Job.”
- Rephrase your praise to allow for your child to internalize how they feel about themselves and their accomplishments without always having to rely upon external kudos. Instead of always saying “I am proud of you,” you can rephrase this as “You should be proud of yourself.” Or another example might be, “You probably feel very happy that you shared your toys and made your friend smile.”
Above all praise should be genuine and not overdone. Children are very quick to know when praise is insincere or rote. Nobody likes false compliments. But praise which is given in a creative and honest way can help to reinforce a child’s sense of motivation and increase self-esteem. The end goal is to have your child be able to evaluate themselves accurately and be proud of their efforts and accomplishments.