Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why we don't say "Good Job"

That's right. In my house we don't say "good job," well except for maybe sarcastically/jokingly when someone has goofed something up. The only other exception is when interacting with our dogs.

It is often said that as an alternative to punishment, we should instead praise our children when they are doing something good. This isn't the opposite of punishment, praise is a verbal reward and as Alfie Kohn has put it rewards and punishments are simply two sides of the same coin. Both are focused just on getting our kids to do what we want them to do, they are "doing to" approaches, as opposed to the "working with" approach that I prefer. But I will get more into that in another post.

Back to why we don't say "good job." There are many reasons we avoid the phrase, one of them being that I find it to be manipulative. I haven't always been anti-"good job," and I found that I almost always said it in response to McKaleigh doing something that was pleasing to me. I was using my "good jobs" to get her to do what I wanted, which I am not okay with. I want my daughter to do good things because she wants to and because she understands why they are good. I don't want her to do things just to make me happy. Now when I hear people say "good job" it makes me cringe. I can't hear it without thinking of how condescending and manipulative it sounds.

Among the other reasons, which you can find in Alfie Kohn's article "Five Reasons to stop saying 'Good Job!,'" are that it creates praise junkies, steals a child's pleasure, causes children to lose interest in whatever they were praised for, and actually reduces achievement.
When I first heard about praising being bad I thought it was silly. In fact, I thought it was cold and heartless not to offer praise, but really I think that's because I didn't have a good understanding of what praise really was. Praise is a positive evaluation or judgment. Sure it may be positive but the key word here is "judgment." We are constantly placing our judgments onto children. Here is an example of why that can be damaging in an excerpt from Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting" (pg 156):
Recently, I found myself at a crafts activity sponsored by a local library in which children were invited to create snowflakes out of pipe cleaners and beads. A boy of about four or five sitting near me showed his mother what he had done, and immediately she gushed about how wonderful it was. Then, since I was the only other adult at the table, he held his snowflake out so I, too, could see it clearly. Instead of offering an evaluation, I asked him whether he liked it. "Not so much," he admitted. I asked why, and he began to explain, his tone suggesting genuine interest in figuring out other possible ways he might have used the materials. This is exactly the sort of elaboration and reflection that are stifled when we slather our kids with praise. They tend to stop thinking and talking about what they've done as soon as we pass judgment on it
There's so much more I could say on this topic, but I will let you do your own reading, since I don't feel that I could say it any better than Mr. Kohn:).