After reading a couple of the most impactful parenting books by Alfie Kohn, I became very sensitive to the phrase, “Good Job!”. The research he presents on the detrimental impact of praise and rewards and how they influence a person socially and emotionally from childhood into adulthood, deeply got my attention. After my journey through his books, I realized that these two words lacked depth and meaning and are mostly said wherever babies and children are present.
When is “Good Job” said to adults? When they show up at the office? When a deadline is met? When they do their taxes on time? When dinner prepared and served? How about, none of the above. When a tot performs any socially expected behaviors, such as sharing, or “firsts”, such as drawing with their crayons or even stepping down the curb without a stumble, that seems to spark the flow of “Good Job!” for years.
After reading Alfie Kohn’s books, Unconditional Parenting and Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, I clearly understood the damage of “Good Job!” and now notice it is said very often. The over the top enthusiastic, “Good Job!” is exclaimed by parents, grandparents, older siblings and caretakers. “Good Job!” is like a spotlight on the child and is most frequently said when the child is DOING, not when he is simply BEING his amazing self. What is the outcome of this? Overtime those overused words also shifts the motivation for why a child chooses to do an activity or contribute. Whether it is exclaimed for positive reinforcement or a very brief acknowledgement of the child’s ‘accomplishment”, the research reveals that the child will be motivated to get more remarks of approval and seek to do things in order to hear those two words from their beloved parents. The child becomes very addicted to hearing the praise of “Good Job!” and eventually looks to the parent to acknowledge his every action.
We all want to see our child simply share because he feels the desire ann compassion, rather than share because an adult is near to witness and offer the comment “Good Sharing!”. Over the years, if he becomes accustomed to being told “Good Job” and he isn’t told that every successive times he rides his bike without training wheels, he’ll eventually wonder why or look to the next thing he does that warrant a “Good Job!” from Mom and Dad. I still remember hearing these words when I was a child and clearly recall how amazing and approved of that I felt when I heard them.
Studies that Alfie Kohn cites in his books reveal that stating the facts is an acknowledgement that creates connection, alternatively praise creates children who are addicted to and motivated by praise and approval. Alfie Kohn provides acknowledgement examples in his books. For instance, instead of an evaluating statement such as “Good Job” or “beautiful painting!”, the alternative could be “You did it!” or “I see you chose to draw a purple flower and you added a big yellow sun. I love watching you have fun!”.
For more information on the detrimental impact of praise and rewards, read Unconditional Parenting and Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. Both books are authored by Alfie Kohn.