|Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!"|
|Written by Alfie Kohn © 2001|
|Sunday, 29 April 2007|
Page 4 of 5
Once you start to see praise for what it is Ė and what it does Ė these constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his teachers or parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), "Good praising!"
Still, itís not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though youíre being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because children need to hear it. Whenever thatís true, itís time to rethink what weíre doing.
What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. Thatís not just different from praise Ė itís the opposite of praise. "Good job!" is conditional. It means weíre offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us.
This point, youíll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids "earn" it. But the real problem isnít that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. Itís that weíre tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.
So whatís the alternative? That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what theyíve done. When unconditional support is present, "Good job!" isnít necessary; when itís absent, "Good job!" wonít help.
If weíre praising positive actions as a way of discouraging misbehavior, this is unlikely to be effective for long. Even when it works, we canít really say the child is now "behaving himself"; it would be more accurate to say the praise is behaving him. The alternative is to work with the child, to figure out the reasons heís acting that way. We may have to reconsider our own requests rather than just looking for a way to get kids to obey. (Instead of using "Good job!" to get a four-year-old to sit quietly through a long class meeting or family dinner, perhaps we should ask whether itís reasonable to expect a child to do so.)
We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is doing something that disturbs others, then sitting down with her later and asking, "What do you think we can do to solve this problem?" will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that her ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a "Good job!" when the child acts in the way we deem appropriate takes none of those things, which helps to explain why "doing to" strategies are a lot more popular than "working with" strategies.
And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:
|< Prev||Next >|