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".
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!".
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".
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.
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.
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!".