Praise is supposed to be good for kids, right? What is wrong with saying “Good Job?” Well, nothing in particular, I guess. The wrong kind of praise can actually cause anxiety and lower self-esteem.  It can actually decrease motivation.  The right kind of praise can create lasting character traits that build self-esteem and the intrinsic desire to achieve. Here are some things to consider when it comes to praise.

The Problem with Praise

  • When used too often, it becomes less meaningful.
  • When a child has low self-esteem, they dismiss praise as untrue.
  • When a child has high self-esteem, they dismiss praise as untrue.
  • It becomes a filler word when you’re not sure what else to say.
  • It promotes EXTERNAL motivation rather than INTERNAL motivation.

Praise Can Create “Good Job” Junkies

Praise in the form of “Good Job!” for all jobs done becomes less meaningful. It becomes cliché and loses its value. I had a professor once that ended every email with “Good Job” or “You Rock!” It became somewhat of a joke. I would glance past it without giving it any thought.

For children with low self-esteem, when someone says good job, they immediately discredit it. Internally, they say, “not really” or “no, it wasn’t.” They have a hard time with compliments and focus on the negative. It doesn’t help them feel better and it doesn’t motivate them to do more.   Essentially, in a research study, children who were told that they were doing a good job (even when they weren’t) did worse on tests than children who were told that they needed to try harder.   The research is explained in this ABC video based on the research on praise from the book Nurture Shock.

For children with high self-esteem, they often discredit it as well. But for a different reason. These kids think, “that wasn’t anything special.” For them, seeing Good Job written on a spelling test that they did not have to study for does not seem genuine. They know that it wasn’t really work.

Praise As A Habit

For parents the phrase “Good Job” just seems to come out. Good Job works great on babies and toddlers. This is when we keep our language simple. But it becomes a habit. Notice for the next 24 hours how many times you say Good Job in response to a trivial comment from your child. I am guilty of this myself. Sometimes, it just comes out. Even if I am not all that impressed with the thing you just did. Good Job just seems like a polite thing to say.

The Wrong Kind of Praise Creates More Problems

But most importantly, Good Job promotes EXTERNAL motivation. This is otherwise known as the “What Am I Going To GET For This?” mentality. Good job puts the focus on what other people think about my effort or behavior. What research published in the American Psychological Association’s  Journal has found over time is that GRIT (the ability to keep going despite hardship) is the most useful predictor of success. And people with grit have high INTERNAL motivation. They do things because they get satisfaction from figuring out problems. They feel proud when they achieve. The rewards are nice, but the value is in the feeling of accomplishment rather than the prize.

More Effective Ways to use Praise to Build Grit

 TOP 10 alternatives to GOOD JOB:  (Click Link for Printable)


Try these phrases instead of Good Job and notice the difference in the reaction from your child. Typically, these types of phrases feel more authentic and genuine to the recipient and they actually build self-esteem, internal motivation and most of all, grit!



Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at

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