Is “Good Job” no good?

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Is “Good job!” no good?

I can walk down the hallway of any school and hear at least three “Good job!” comments before reaching the cafeteria.  “That’s so great!” is common on the tongues of counselors and educators alike; however, could this type of praise lead to negative side effects in young people?  According to research, it absolutely can.  Praise can attach judgment or appraisal to an action leading individuals, not only children and adolescents but adults as well, to seek external approval versus intrinsic motivation.  The individual no longer interacts or engages in certain behaviors without expecting acknowledgement from others.  However, when one makes encouraging statements that reflect the individual’s process and is specific to that event, the individual’s effort is validated in a way that builds self-esteem.  For example, saying “You tried really hard!” or “You were so careful while you were building that tower” focuses on the child’s “work” without making any blanketed statements about that child’s “goodness.”  This type of encouragement has been shown to lead to children developing a flexible mindset, confronting their weaknesses, and being willing to take on challenges.

I am the Program Director for therapeutic day treatment in five schools working with clients from prekindergarten through high school, and I am also currently working to become a registered play therapist.  In client-directed play therapy as well as any client-centered intervention, the child leads the play.  As the counselor, it is my “job” (I use that word loosely because it is so darned fun!) to track the client’s play while ensuring that I am not making any judgment calls as to what to play with, how to play, or how to act in the playroom.  It is up to the child, and my role is to provide support and encouragement.  When a client asks me to identify a certain toy, I simply reply, “What do you think it is?”  This gives children permission to freely play and thus instills confidence in their decision-making abilities and self-esteem.  Going back to that hallway – what does “Good job” even mean?  Who am I to place judgment on what is “good” or “bad?”  I am not saying we should never identify when a young person excels again.  I am simply saying we, meaning counselors/parents/school faculty/community members, must be intentional with our words because children are impacted by them.  So the next time your child or student shows you that A on his latest math test, refrain from your typical, “Well done!” and try something we all need to hear from time to time – “You worked really hard on that and should be proud of yourself.”

Playfully,

Michelle D. Smith, M.Ed.
VCA Treasurer-Elect
VASC Immediate Past President

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