Is Praising Children Bad?

I’ve been trying to get my arms around a thought provoking article I read this week, Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!" by Alfie Kohn.

He is the author of Punished by Rewards [Amazon] and Unconditional Parenting [Amazon]. Yeah I know, I haven’t read his books either.

His Five Reasons article cites no research—only vague references—but his ideas seem reasonable.

The premise: Loving our children unconditionally is good, but praising them is often bad. Praising a child by saying "Good job!" is a conditional thing, "offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us."

That rang true for me. I caught myself numerous times this week telling Little Miss "Good job!" or "Good! Good! Good!" … always because she had done something I asked of her. Am I orienting her actions toward pleasing her parents or should I teach her to do good things for their own sake?

One of Kohn’s suggestions, in lieu of saying "Good job," is to say what you see. For example, when we forgot to bring our Bilby shopping cart cover to the grocery store, Little Miss kept herself busy by helping us push the cart around the store. She stood directly in front of the adult driver and pushed. She is quite forceful and willing to push the cart much faster than Mom or Dad. I caught myself saying "Good job!" and then corrected with, "This cart is really moving. We sure are shopping fast today."

Many scenarios present themselves. When teaching Miss to share her toys, why say "Good job" because she did what I requested? Why not say, "My, look how happy you made your friend Melena when you shared that toy."

Give Five Reasons a read. I’d enjoy hearing how it works for you.


4 Responses to “Is Praising Children Bad?”

  1. kelly jeanie says:

    I stumbled across that article a month or two ago and we’ve been catching ourselves from saying “Good job!” as well. It just seems to make sense. Like you said, we don’t want him to do things just to make us happy. Plus, it’ll probably help his vocabulary. :) Our toddler is still too young (14 months) to tell if it will make/has made any difference, but I will be interested to see what others with older kids see. AJ, let us know how this goes with Little Miss.

    May 26th, 2006 at 10:52 am

  2. thordora says:

    We’re human. I like to have my boss said “good work” now an again, because otherwise, I’m a bitter wench who screws the pooch.

    We try to balance it. If Vivian does something we asked, we merely say ‘Thank you for doing X”. Not good job. She met my expectation-why should I jump up and down over it. She’s got to learn to clean up after herself because it’s part of life, not an option to feel good about. Whereas the other day, when she actually read something, despite barely being able to read, she got a “Wow,good job!” Because it was, and I was impressed.

    We are all motivated by something in life, and I don’t necessarily agree with raising children to be motivated soley by their own pleasures/wants/desires. Sometimes you do things to make others happy, or because you have to, and we’re rearing ours with an eye to that. But the “good jobs” aren’t exactly frequent, just because we prefer to only say it when it’s meaningful.

    I think the article is good to start a dialogue, and get people to step back from their parenting methods to see if it’s working, but otherwise, it’s a bit creepy to me.

    May 27th, 2006 at 7:46 am

  3. mdonner says:

    I agree with alot of the article. I notice how many times my 2 year old tells ME that she did something right. She is so proud of being a ‘good girl’ and very rarely needs me to tell her so. She is definitely realizing good behavior versus bad behavior without me doing anything but pointing it out to her.

    June 2nd, 2006 at 5:37 pm

  4. Christine says:

    I really like your toy sharing example, because it’s not teaching to be motivated purely by our own wants/desires so much as teaching to be motivated by a general good outcome – it’s better for a kid to learn “you should share your toys because it makes your friend happy” than to learn “you must share your toys because your parents say so”, IMO. Thanks for the interesting read.

    June 6th, 2006 at 10:24 am

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