3.19.2008

Good Job!

After seeing a link to this article on two different blogs in the same week, I decided the universe was sending me a message and perhaps I should pay attention. Alfie Kohn's Five Reasons To Stop Saying "Good Job!" certainly made me pause and ponder, for I often hear myself saying those two little words: Good job! Or even for my emerging readers, Good J - O - B!

So after reading the article and thinking way too much about those two simple words, I decided that I was not saying Good Job! dismissively, that I don't find my children to be hungry for praise, and that I don't believe the use of those two words is making my children hesitant to try new things for fear of failure. Rather I discovered I was using the phrase for its efficiency; two words that simply mean, "Yes I see what you are doing or have done and it is wonderful".

Almost There

For example, when my children walk across the canal on an old pipe I say, "Good Job!".

What I really mean is, "Thank goodness you made it across the pipe without falling into the canal because I would hate to have to jump into that cold, dirty water and rescue you!".

Pump it up

Or when my children jump on a swing and start pumping their legs I say, "Good Job!".

What I really mean is, "I am so glad you are big enough to get on the swing and push yourself because I would really rather sit here in the shade and read a book than stand in the hot sun and push you".

Evening Snack

Or when my children make a snack for themselves I say, "Good Job!".

What I really mean is, "It is great that you can finally make something for yourself when you are hungry because frankly I am tired of being a short order cook".

Or when my children spell a word on their own, "Good Job!"

What I really mean is, "You may just grow up to be a literate citizen after all despite all my worrying that I am unfit to homeschool you and am actually ruining you for life!".

Yes, perhaps Kohn's question is right on the spot, "Is it possible that telling kids they've done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?" All the examples above cater to my convenience, because raising independent, able-bodied children is not only satisfying, it is convenient. The more children do for themselves, the less you have to do for them. Self sufficiency is good for them and for you. Ultimately though, if my intent is efficiency in communication and convenience, it would be more efficient and convenient to say nothing at all.

Of course there is a time and a place for praise, and when Avery's friend HB came over the other day with a homemade spool knitter, I had nothing but praise for her creativity and ingenuity.

Ingenuity

Avery has two different spool knitters and had shown HB how to make I-cord. HB went home and was so anxious to make more that she rigged a spool knitter out of a toilet paper roll, popsicle sticks and a rubber band. MacGuyver himself could not have made a better spool knitter in a pinch. Avery promptly put her wooden spool away and raided the trash and junk drawer for supplies to make a spool knitter HB style.

I-Cord

Avery said, "HB is an inventor!" and, "If HB ever runs for president I will vote for her!"

What I think she meant was "Good Job!".

17 comments:

  1. so interesting. i read an article about saying "good job" when jane was little and i find i don't really say it all that much. i say things like, "wow!" and "look at you" which essentially give the same message but with different words.

    and i think i will vote for HB if she runs for president. anyone who wants to spool knit that badly gets my vote.

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  2. I'm voting for HB, too. How soon can she run?!

    What a great post, Molly! Good job!

    What I really mean is... thank you for saying all those things that are really behind the words "good job" because they cracked me up.

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  3. HB gets my vote too and "Good Job" Molly for saying so eloquently all those things we moms really mean when we say those two little words.
    This might be my favorite post yet...fantastic!!

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  4. serious words of wisdom, my friend. Good job does become a shortcut for what we really mean to say. Thanks for the reminder to not take that shortcut.

    And that spool? Amazing. Such an innovator!

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  5. Good job on this post! Very well written and so true.

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  6. I just wanted to say "good job" but noticed I wasn't first in line. So instead I'll say I'm glad you made us think!
    It's just like saying your prayers and and not meaning it... the word that comes to mind is "rote". Say what you mean and mean what you say is a fine adage!
    I think you are wonderful and a great MOM.
    Love
    Dad

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  7. When can I come up for the banana treat? That looks wonderful!

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  8. A friend and I read the same article last week. She got mad, I got depressed, then we were overwrought with raising toddlers and I think we both forgot about it. And you have captured with eloquence and thoughtfulness what neither of us could voice. Thank you.

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  9. Very funny and clever! I, too, have given up "good job." But some days I'm tired and it's all I can muster up ;)
    So clever of HB. I know what they will be selling on the corner now! Great post, Molly.

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  10. Ha!! I'm goign to read that article, I think I say it to much by I'm starting to say "look at you!!" much more. I love how you wrote this, it made me laugh.

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  11. r
    i
    g
    h
    t

    o
    n


    oh, i needed to hear this.

    good job....er, thank you for taking the time to write it all out.


    : )

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  12. wow! this is a great article! I wish this idea was available when I was mothering. It says essentially what I was trying to say earlier about protecting a child's intrinsic motivation. For more detail than you would want for not saying "good job," this book is fascinating-- Self-theories: their role in motivation, personality, and development by Carol Dweck

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  13. I don't understand why child psychologists pluck one phrase from the world of parenting and latch on to it, not taking into account the entire portrait of a parent's relationship with her child. I say good job, because sometimes they ACTUALLY DO A GOOD JOB. I clap when my baby accomplishes something. If I were a parent who did not have regular conversations with my child, did not explain the value of hard work or the value of plain fun, and never stopped to really listen, then yes, I would be doing my children a disservice by mumbling "good job" every 5 minutes. It isn't the phrase that causes the problems; it's the spirit with which it is delivered that can make or break the moment.

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  14. First of all, I think every kid (& parent) is an individual and therefore a blanket statement like, "don't say 'good job'" will not cover everyone. Some kids may benefit from praise while it may smother other kids. What I do know about my kids is they both eventually expressed distrust of our parental praise and approval. Every person will form their own judgment about the validity of another person's perspective, and our kids decided we were toooo supportive about the little things. They consequently doubted the validity of our praise, even when they really were knocking our socks off. Whatever you do, someone will find fault with your actions, but kids are resilient so in the end your kids will be fine; and if they aren't fine it will have been outside your control. Read "The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls, and you won't worry about the damage you might be doing by saying 'good job.' Kids really are resilient in spite of what we do as parents. -- Mark.

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  15. I couldn't agree with you more. I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. The first post already has me hooked!

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  16. I read the good job article and thought I would try to expand on my responses. Sometimes I find myself struggling to find something else to say. Thanks for the great post. You Rock-I find I've been substituting with this one of late.

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  17. You have a wonderful blog! (That's my version of a heartfelt, I'm-paying-attention-to-you "Good job!") I love your writing and your thoughtful parenting.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. That Knitting Nancy/Ned must be one of those ideas whose turn it is to come back. My son's teacher had everyone in the class make one after he took his to school. I can imagine miles of I-cord already emerging from their classroom door.

    Keep posting!

    P.S. I stopped reading parenting magazines after Child #1. I don't feel that I'll ever master parenting, but those articles just made me feel guilty or depressed, so I felt I should just pay attention to the good parents around me and follow their models.

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