While I was having dinner at a local family restaurant the other night, I couldn’t help but observe two moms, clearly close friends, and their clan of five small children crammed into one booth. As the mothers sat and had a conversation, it was clear their attention was not on the children. One mom became frustrated when the three-year-old boy kept interrupting their conversation.
As I observed, I cringed at the words I heard, as if they were screeching nails on a chalkboard: “Girls, tell him he did a good job.”
When the girls did not respond to their mother’s request, she repeated it multiple times (screech, screech, screech!). The result was a frustrated mom, disinterested little girls, and possibly a “happy” three-year-old. Clearly, this was not the outcome the mother was hoping for, but, hey, at least he received a “good job,” and all was quiet again at the table. After all, that is what the mothers were seeking, right?
My mind started spinning with questions as I tried to enjoy my meal.
Why do we so often believe that children have to hear the phrase “good job?”
Why must we tell a child yearning for attention “good job” just to give him the instant gratification of hearing he did a good job when, in fact, maybe he didn’t do a good job?
What truly is a “good job?”Why does my opinion matter?
What is society coming to where children have to be praised just to shut them up?
We have a “Good Job Crisis!” So, what can we do to fix this problem? In my experience as a Montessori teacher, I have seen simple changes in language help children decide if they have done a good job intrinsically. These are the top three “secrets” that I put to use in my classroom and encourage both parents and other educators to do the same.
“What do you think about your picture?” Find out how they feel about the art project, situation, or behavior. Adults so often shape children into what we think they should believe, when in reality, they truly are capable enough to decide for themselves if they feel successful. As parents, it may be tough to ignore the pestering child who wants instant gratification. Still, if we go back to the dinner disaster, a quick question could have easily enhanced the conversation, produced a more supportive outcome, and left the entire table less annoyed at being ordered around.
BE QUIET AND LET THEM EXPLAIN
Sometimes saying nothing can be crucial. This alternative can go in hand with asking a question and simply waiting for a response without passing judgment. Let the child explain. Whether it is their description of artwork or their reasoning behind a choice they made, let the child’s mind do the work and support their own success with a smile.
REPLACE “GOOD JOB” WITH OTHER WORDS
This won’t take on perfection the first time you try, or the second, or third for that matter. You must practice your language. Below are some examples of how to start changing your vocabulary today. Pay close attention to the verbiage and start applying them in your life.
REPLACE: “Great job cleaning your room today, Stella!”
WITH: “I like how you organized your shoes in your closet.”
OR: “I noticed you put your baby doll’s clothes back in the basket.”
REPLACE: “Good job mashing those potatoes; it must have been hard work.”
WITH: “Thank you for helping make dinner.”
OR: “I acknowledge you for making the mashed potatoes for dinner tonight.”
REPLACE: “You did a really good job on your science fair project!”
WITH: “What was your favorite part about your project?”
OR: “I see you put a lot of detail into your presentation board.”
If this all seems like a huge undertaking, you are right, it is! It’s not easy for many of us who have grown up as “praise junkies” to change our language to shape our children differently.
Now, I am not saying that all praise is bad because we are humans, and we all like to be recognized.
And while you practice these “secrets,” know that it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! Children need to learn that they are doing it for themselves and not always for the gratification of others.
So, how are you going to put an end to the “Good Job Crisis?” I want to challenge you to start today with one simple phrase to replace “good job.” •