July 18, 2016

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!



About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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