Praise is powerful. When we praise our kids for doing something ‘right’ or ‘correct’, a “good job” rolls off our tongue. Seemingly, we have praised them, therefore acknowledging their effort. We then send them on their way with the hopes that this will lead them to completing the task again in the future. What are we really talking about here? Behavior? Conditioning? What about the social-emotional development of the child? Their psyche, their sense of fulfillment and pride in their actions? Here are some ways that empowering kids beyond a simple “good job” can increase self-worth and intrinsic value.
Empowering Kids: What this means
Empty praise (while still good) doesn’t fully acknowledge the behavior that led to the approval. Praising good behavior, or a correct action, can lead children to believe that they are worthy simply because of the actions that they take and the things that they do. Acknowledging the motivation, the time and care, and the skills that it took to complete an action, helps a child feel good about themselves. This intrinsic motivation is powerful for kids. In the future, they will not repeat the action because it pleases you, they will repeat it because it feels good to them. This is what will lead to positive behavior and action for a lifetime.
How do I put this into action?
What did your child do that you want to praise? Did they complete a piece of art? Did they set the table? Did they help their sibling clean up? Take note of exactly what it is you are praising.
You’ve recognized what your child has done. Now think about what they needed to do to complete that task. What skills were involved, what emotions, or what thoughts.
Appreciate those skills that they used. Understand the feelings and emotions that they had, and be thankful that they took them into consideration, even if it made for a more difficult decision or outcome.
But what does this look like?
Let’s take one of the above-mentioned scenarios. Your child sets the table before dinner.
This is what it looks like:
“You carried all of those plates to the table and put them in the correct spot. That was a lot of work. Thank you for your help!”
Do you see the difference? “Good job” acknowledges and praises the action. But the latter lets your child know that you see what they do, that there is value in hard work and helping others, and that you appreciate them. Now how powerful is that? Your kids deserve to feel like you see them and value them, and they deserve to internalize that and take pride in it.
Now, I’m not telling you not to say “good job” to your kids. They are not ‘bad words’ that will hinder your child’s development. The phrase is certainly a part of my vocabulary as a mom. I am asking you to remember that you hold a lot of control, and empowering kids is possible by acknowledging and really understanding their actions, behavior and choices. Therefore, giving them pride and self-worth, leading to good choices in the future simply because they value themselves.
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Sue Parke says
Wow great post. Love the example you used. My daughter has been really into helping put laundry away. I actually have said both, “Good job” and “Good job putting your clothes in the drawer.” Going forward I’ll definitely use your suggestions. I never really thought much about how I praise her, but it makes complete sense.
Kristen Hewitt says
This is SO helpful, I try to praise the positive, but never thought to break it down. Thanks for sharing!
DeAnna Hegstad says
Excellent advice! In a world of simple “good jobs” it is empowering to recognize the value behind the action , which motivates internal desire.
Great post! Agree that ‘good job’ by itself is not enough. More than praising the actions, we need to recognize their efforts and strength which in turn builds up their confidence and self-worth. Thanks for sharing!