Your child just tied her shoes, crossed the monkey bars, showed you a drawing, or helped carry in the grocery bags. If you’re like many parents out there, the words “good job” just bubbled to the surface and came out of your mouth before you had a second to think about. But, you’ve been reading our blog and learning that internal motivation is way better than external praise and you know you should say something else instead! But what?? Problem solved! Here are 30 things to say to your child instead of “Good job!”
10 Things to say when you want to acknowledge their CREATIVITY and ASSERTIVENESS
When you want to say something about what they did, something they created, or some way in which they solved a problem or shared their thoughts, try saying something like this:
- Tell me about your picture / story / project.
- How did you decide to paint / draw / write a ______?
- Look at how you used all the colors!
- What do you like about your work?
- What would you change about _____?
- That’s an interesting idea. Tell me more.
- I’d like to hear what you think about this.
- You filled in the whole paper!
- That’s one idea! What else could we do?
- I’ve never thought about it that way. Thank you for sharing that with me.
Draw your child’s attention to the process, not the product. Invite them to think deeper, reflect on their feelings about what they have created, and consider alternatives. Rather than just giving a quick, verbal “pat on the head,” you’ll be giving your child the tools he or she needs to tackle the next (bigger) problem or work harder to improve a budding skill.
10 Things to say when you want to support their PERSEVERANCE and DILIGENCE
Hard work should not go unnoticed. But, in order for true perseverance and grit to develop, children should be given the opportunity to think about what it took to complete a challenging task. Draw attention to the time spent, effort demonstrated, and lessons learned. Instead of saying, “You did it! Good job!” these might be a better fit:
- You kept going, even when it got difficult.
- That was challenging, but you really stuck with it.
- What was the hardest part?
- I can tell this is challenging. Do you need a short break?
- What would you do differently next time?
- We’re just going to take one step at a time. We’ll get there.
- You’ll feel better if you finish what you started.
- You’re doing just fine. Keep going.
- This is a big job, but I know you can do it.
- You finished! How does that feel?
One more thing… we know you’re proud of them for whatever they did, but don’t make their accomplishment about you. It’s totally fine to say, “I’m really proud of you,” but for every one parent-focused phrase, try to get into the habit of saying two child-focused phrases or questions.
You are proud of them, because you have a much deeper understanding of what it takes to accomplish whatever it is they just did. They’re still learning that. Give them a chance to learn it for themselves.
10 Things to say when you want to encourage their KINDNESS and FLEXIBILITY
We’re walking a fine line with this one. We want our children to practice kindness, caring, and compassion, just because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re being rewarded. We want them to go with the flow, because it’s helpful — and they want to be helpful — not because they think they’re going to get something in exchange for their flexibility.
However, when we draw too much attention to it — and praise them in the wrong way — they are actually less likely to demonstrate these great qualities, unless someone is watching! You don’t want your kid being nice when you’re looking and on Santa’s naughty list when you’re not, right? So tread carefully when it comes to praising those good deeds.
- How can we be a good friend to _____?
- What does your friend like to do?
- Doing nice things for people shows that we care.
- Sometimes we just need to listen to our friends and what they need.
- Thank you for using your gentle hands.
- When everyone gets a turn, everyone has more fun!
- Thank you for noticing that I needed help with that.
- People make mistakes; that’s how we learn.
- I like that one, too, but we’re buying a present for _____ what do they like?
- Is there another way we could try doing that?
These can take the place of all those “I saw how you _____! What a good friend you are!” types of comments. Give them opportunities to think about their actions and how their actions affect others. Allow them to make mistakes and help them figure out how to fix them. Practice flexibility for yourself and your child; according to #8, it’s how we learn, after all!
- Intrinsic Motivation: How Your Behavior is Driven by Internal Rewards by Kendra Cherry
- The Virtues Project™ website
- The Virtues Project at Children’s House Montessori School of Reston
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