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.
- I noticed how hard you worked on that.
- It must feel great to be able to do that all by yourself.
- Thank you for helping.
- It looks like your friend/sibling is really happy you’re sharing.
- You didn’t give up, even though it was hard.
- Thank you for not interrupting.
- What do you like best about your work?
- Thank you for waiting.
- You worked on that for a long time!
- I notice how you’re trying so hard to be polite.
- You’re being a really good friend.
- Your work looks so neat.
- I noticed that you were concentrating really hard.
- I can tell you tried your hardest.
- What are you going to do now?
- Tell me about what you did/made.
- You did it!
- I can see all of your practice is paying off.
- I really appreciate your help.
- 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