If I Shouldn’t Say “Good Job”, What Should I Say?

Tips for using descriptive praise

Our children want to show us everything they can do, from doing a crazy jump off the curb to tracing their letters, getting an “A” at school, completing a beautiful drawing and more. They want to be seen. And we want them to feel great! Unfortunately, too often, we get stuck in a rut of saying “good job!” which sounds great in the moment but can create problems if you use this popular phrase too often.

Saying “good job!” is a form of evaluative praise, which means children’s actions are judged as good or bad. This can be damaging to your children and even result in narcissism!

But, most people are so used to saying “good job!” or a similar form of extra positive “woohoo!” response to their kids that you may start to wonder…what should I say? Don’t worry, helpful answers are on the way.

The alternative to evaluative praise like “good job” is descriptive praise (learn more about it here!). The short version is that descriptive praise, well “describes” what your child has done rather than evaluating the action. This means when you’re 4-year-old says “Look at me! I can jump up to the sky!” you say “You’re right, you are jumping so high!” instead  of “good job!”.

Yes, it’s hard to get in the habit of using it. After all, most of us grew up with parents, teachers and other family members who enjoyed praising our every move. For others, it’s the opposite. Maybe there was a lot of negativity growing up and now you’re making the effort to be extra positive with your kids, but don’t want to go overboard. The thing is, old habits are hard to break. So, I’ve come up with some guidelines for using descriptive praise and a list of alternatives to “good job” so that you’re no longer fumbling for what to say.


Guidelines for Using Descriptive Praise

1. Describe what you see. 

This is an easy way to affirm your child and doesn’t take a lot of thinking on your part. “You’re jumping rope!” “You wrote a whole paragraph!” “You scored a goal!”

2. Notice the positive outcomes or benefits.

This means you’re pointing out how your child’s actions are helpful or beneficial. Using the same activities in the above examples, you might say “That’s good exercise for your body.” “Now, you’re getting that much closer to writing a whole story.” “I noticed how you worked together with your team, together you can achieve more!”

3. Be Grateful if Appropriate

When your child helps you with something, completes a chore or shares, they often want acknowledgement. The best way to teach gratefulness is by example, so in these cases you can say “Thank you!” or something along the lines of “I appreciate how you’re sharing with your sister.”

The Big List of Descriptive Praise

Now, for the list.

  1. I noticed how hard you worked on that.
  2. It must feel great to be able to do that all by yourself.
  3. Thank you for helping.
  4. It looks like your friend/sibling is really happy you’re sharing.
  5. You didn’t give up, even though it was hard.
  6. Thank you for not interrupting.
  7. What do you like best about your work?
  8. Thank you for waiting.
  9. You worked on that for a long time!
  10. I notice how you’re trying so hard to be polite.
  11. You’re being a really good friend.
  12. Your work looks so neat.
  13. I noticed that you were concentrating really hard.
  14. I can tell you tried your hardest.
  15. What are you going to do now?
  16. Tell me about what you did/made.
  17. You did it!
  18. I can see all of your practice is paying off.
  19. I really appreciate your help.
  20. I can tell you really enjoy dancing/jumping, etc.

Would you like the printable version of this list? Find it here: The Big List of Descriptive Praise – Volcano Mama


21 thoughts on “If I Shouldn’t Say “Good Job”, What Should I Say?

  1. I am so guilty of saying “good job.” Good job you ate…. Good job you finished all your homework. Good job, this, good job that. I’ve definitely eased up on the gratuitious praise.

    • “Good job” just comes out doesn’t it! It’s so easy and covers everything…but with a bit of effort we can change our habits and use healthier praise that teaches. I think even so the occasion “good job” is fine 🙂

    • Haha – good one! Yes – very true, much greater connection when descriptive praise is used. I think they sense how genuine and sincere we are because we’re specific!

  2. I love this! As a child & family therapist, I often have this conversation with parents on expanding the good job and being more descriptive. Not only will it increase positive behavior but expands their vocabulary!! love love love it! Great post!

  3. Interesting read. I usually start with “good job” and then expand on that to what in particular I am proud of. Never knew there was a name for how we are supposed to be giving out praise now #momsterlink

  4. Good job isn’t really a phrase we use, but I do say well done all the time when I should really expand on it and explain why I am saying well done. Really interesting and thought provoking, thank you! #momsterslink

    • Thanks for reading! It takes some getting used to, but I think being more specific and descriptive is so helpful for our kids!

  5. I probably say this more than I realize, although I do try to describe/observe what they are doing/show I’ve noticed the effort/effect of what they are doing. This is a helpful list. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Wow.. I never realised just how much I say good job before…. I love this post! It’s given me a whole new insight and some really helpful alternatives, thank you so much 🙂 #madaboutblog

  7. Loved this list! A friend of mine who is a psychologist and I spoke about this very thing and being more engaging with praise rather than the stock “Good Job” as you said. I had not realized how often I was saying that and of course the mom guilt happened. Great post =) #madaboutblog

  8. It was so hard to change for me, but after awhile it became second nature. Wish I had seen this a long time ago lol

    • Yes, I know the feeling of wanting to know things sooner than I did. But we can only change when we know better. Way to stick with it! It can take a while to turn these sorts of phrases into habit 🙂

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