I invite you this week to try an experiment. What I’m asking you to observe is a growing phenomenon that we talk about often at the Seed. This topic has been on my list for awhile, and I’ve hesitated writing about it because I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want any of my readers to think I’m being critical of their parenting or work with children. That said, I feel quite passionate about this topic and once you started investigating, I think you’ll see why.
Several years ago, I came across an article by Alfie Kohn, one of my heroes in the educational world. Here’s his website if you want to know more about this brilliant radical thinker: http://www.alfiekohn.org. He’s taken on hard topics over the years, including high stakes testing, competition, homework, rewards, and parenting styles. The article, “Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job’ ” (http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/five-reasons-stop-saying-good-job/), addresses the issue of praise, particularly using the phrase, “good job.” Among the reasons he gives for NOT using this phrase is that it turns kids into “praise junkies” and removes the opportunity for them to develop their own positive feelings about themselves for their accomplishments. By offering quick and frequent praise in the form of “good job,” we are interfering with a child’s emerging sense of self.
Because of this article, and also our use of Love and Logic over the years, we’ve worked on our use of language with children at the Seed. Occasionally a “good job” pops out, but for the most part we’ve adapted our language to give children a chance to determine their own self-worth. For example, during a recent fire drill practice, a teacher could be heard saying, “You’re doing it! You’re walking down the hall.” Her students were able to take pride in their performance because they knew their teacher was paying attention and said what she noticed.
Another observation I’ve made is that “good job” is a phrase adults can readily use without having to pay much attention. A “good job” can be tossed out to a child without even lifting our eyes to see what they’re doing. It takes more presence to say to a child, “I notice you used bright colors in your picture,” or “That took strong muscles to carry those toys!” By consciously choosing to start sentences with phrases like “I notice…,” or “You’re doing it. You…” and continuing to practice using such phrases, we will all contribute to raising children who are more independent and confident.
If you’re still reading, I hope you’ll take the “good job” challenge and begin to notice how many times this phrase is spoken to children. And if you really feel like living on the edge, try a few sentences that begin with “I notice” or “You’re doing it. You’re…” If you listen closely, you may even hear a child exclaim, “I did it!”