Saying “Good Job” to children is hurtful.

To add to yesterday’s post on Rewards and Punishment, I wanted to direct my readers to this blog that I have been reading recently. Here, the author talks at length about why this comment, and popular practice in American child-raising, among many others, actually are detrimental to optimal child development.

In my Montessori training, my classmates and I had several discussions about this, and I often found myself alone in agreeing with this approach. It was Dr. Maria Montessori’s stance, that saying such things as “Good Job” in response to a child’s work or actions, is a type of reward that teaches children to do work that meets your approval, and to increasingly seek that approval, instead of being given the tools and encouragement to learn how to self-evaluate.

But, it is very difficult to get away from these kinds of sayings. We grew up with it and we are surrounded by it. We are trained to believe that it is important for children to be given this kind of praise in order to succeed. We are trained to feel guilty, or at least indifferent or uncaring, if we don’t shower this praise on children. It sounds like a very cruel thing to do, to ask my assistant teachers and parents to “please don’t say “good job” like that to your children”. But, at the risk of losing potential business for the school, I do in fact, ask parents to please stop saying “Good Job” or “Be Careful” or “It’s Okay.”

I am typically met with great surprise and disbelief at such a suggestion. But, when given the chance to focus on the importance of teaching the child to be able to self-evaluate his or her own work and actions, many parents are at least willing to give it a chance. I can always tell the difference between children whose parents cooperate with this approach, and those who do not. It is a matter of habit for the child. In the same way that offering rewards and bribes in exchange for “good work” takes focus away from the work, saying “Good Job” to a child in response to “good work” does the same. If a child is constantly seeking approval from me, I know that child is not working from an inner desire to actually do great work. The child has already been trained to work for someone else’s approval, and it’s difficult to change such a strong habit. I will still refrain from ever saying “Good Job” – and I will still make every effort to get a child to tell me about the work that she is showing to me first, before I ever give any kind of comment or opinion. Unfortunately, the child will have an obstacle to overcome – “I wonder why the teacher doesn’t ever seem to like my work? She never says “Good Job”?”

If a child is focused on achieving that “Good Job” comment from a parent or teacher, the child is not really being trained to become aware of the quality of his or her work. Earning (or giving) such a comment tends to put a ceiling on achievement for the child. Working for a “Good Job” comment doesn’t take into account that there is a level of repetition involved to achieve mastery over a task or concept. If you have already said “Good Job”, the child tends to not work to achieve better. He’s already gotten your stamp of approval. If the child receives a “Good Job” comment and knows it is not good, you’ve damaged a strong sense of trust. If a child has done “good work” that can be made better, how can you say “Good Job” and then subsequently qualify it with “But…this can be better…” Is it good or not? That’s confusing!

I can also tell children who are not reliant on working for others’ approval. These are the children who chose work independently, concentrate on their work, and are able to put work away to take home, without necessarily having to show me the work first. These are the children who are comfortable to try new things confidently and without fear of making mistakes. These children are also comfortable to ask for help when they need it, and to adequately and honestly critique their own work, without fear of having weaknesses exposed. These are the children who continue to work to improve themselves until they are satisfied with their level of achievement. And the face of this kind of satisfaction is priceless. Who would not want that for their child?

So, is working on refraining from saying “Good Job” to your child worth it to you? If you don’t want to hurt your child’s self-esteem, it’s critical for them to have that chance to be the best they can be.

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