The Purpose of Praise

Research shows that telling children, “good job”, is ineffective.  Furthermore, it creates the opposite of our intention, which is to boost self esteem.

Let that settle.  How many times a day do you either say this to your child, or hear it being said to one?  On playgrounds, sports fields, in classrooms and living rooms, adults use this phrase as the most common form of praise thinking it is beneficial.

In order to explain how detrimental this phrase can be, a deeper understanding of praise is needed. Praise is a way to express approval or admiration, and the intention when using it is to encourage the child to repeat a behavior. Unfortunately, saying, “good job” has no value in that it does not help the child to understand why what he did was good, therefore the encouragement to repeat the behavior is not there. Saying, “good job” does not express approval as praise is intended to be.  Instead, this two word phrase fails to highlight a specific behavior that the adult wants a child to repeat.  It focuses only on the outcome and completely ignores the process that occurred. If the steps taken in order to be successful are not ever acknowledged, how is the child able to evolve and develop independence?   As parents, teachers, and coaches we should recognize that it is imperative to acknowledge the steps a child has taken to be successful at something in order to reach the goal of becoming independent.

Focusing on a specific behavior is where the statements of approval need to be.  In order to praise effectively, children should be told exactly what they did well so that they will be able to repeat the desired behavior.  If your child helps prepare dinner by cutting some vegetables, their effort should be the focus of the praise.  “It really helped our family when you cut the veggies for dinner.”  Or, “I noticed you being very careful when using the chopper and that made all the ones you cut stay on the cutting board!”  This kind of praise is thoughtful, encourages the effort, fosters independence, and promotes self value.

The boost of self esteem born from this type of appropriate praise would be immeasurable.  Upon hearing these messages, a child will try harder, become self motivated, and learn from his experiences.

Submitted by Ms. Monica & Ms. Sarah
Primary 2 Co-Lead Teachers

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