Stop Saying “Good Job” to Your Kids

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I recently put this on my Facebook page… And I’m saving it here for a friend!

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(LONGER THAN LONG) Every once in a while, I get something in my head that I just have to rave about. Of course, it’s usually about something random or off the wall, but I’m super passionate about it. Sometimes it’s about seeing the world. Sometimes it’s about discrimination. Or even about lactivists (the breast is best hate group). But really, right now, I’m all about this “don’t tell your kids ‘good job'” argument.

I hate being steamrolled. I hate being the odd one out and being laughed at for thinking differently when surrounded by like-minded people. So of course, after being laughed at loudly for agreeing with not telling your kids ‘good job,’ I have to express myself. I really think a lot of the issues people have with it, why they support saying “good job” whole-heartedly is because they 1. don’t understand the argument and 2. never heard anything other than “good job” when they pleased their parents. 

Many people think that not saying “good job” means that you can’t support the winners, that it’s all about leveling the playing field and not praising any one child. Many think that the knee-jerk reaction to just spout “good job” at their kids when they do well at something is good, supportive, and all-together the right thing to do when encouraging kids. It’s the only way to build up your kids self esteem, some say.

But I totally get it. Mama never told me good job for anything, but my teachers did. My USFSA coaches didn’t, and neither did my dance teachers, but in elementary school, “good job” was rampant. Where did I excel? Of course, in skating and dancing. I remember in school wondering if what I did was good enough, if it would live up to what I did before that earned me a “good job.” I’d constantly be doubting myself, even in art class, because other kids got a “good job” while I was either trying to mimic what they were doing, or just would rather give up because I couldn’t figure it out fast enough.

When I was skating, I was left to train by myself because I did so well. I was treated like an adult, and was confident when asking coaches for assistance or tips on my form or speed. The only thing I wanted to hear from the other people on the ice was “She’s got it” so that I could work harder on passing my next levels, and earning my next set of badges. I excelled because of the work that I put in to please myself. I was up at 4 am to train every morning before school not so that I could please Mama, but because it built up my self esteem to do something so great on my own. The most I got from Mama was hearing her tell others how hard I worked on my career, at 8 years old.

The joy I got wasn’t from being praised, but from being recognized for the effort I put in. I didn’t get blanket praise, I earned detailed respect.

It wasn’t until middle school that the “good job” spewing stopped. One reason was because, by that time, I was homeless, dirty, and the most bullied kid in school. Just surviving the day was worth an award. Just working through the fact that just a year prior I was on top of the world and on my way to the championships as a professional figure skater, and now I was living in basements was worth a gold medal. Instead, I was invisible. I had the highest GPA in the history of the school system, but I didn’t get a single nod for it because everyone else in my school was failing and so at risk for drug abuse and pregnancy. At this point in life I actually did well, I took on responsibilities, aced every exam, and read books constantly because it was all I had. My confidence grew still because I was entirely dependent on myself to do well in school, even when my home life was nonexistent. 

In high school it was the same story, which brings about another reason for not praising kids for good work. I know a lot of parents give their kids money for doing well in school. I was told so often by aunties how doing well in school should be a given, and money has nothing to do with it. There is no congrats in good grades, because NOT getting good grades isn’t an option (and punishable by a beating). I did well in high school because, well, what other option was there? I participated in extra-curriculars and had a job because, well, was there something more important?

Some studies I read about say that when a child is told “good job,” say, when drawing a picture or building with blocks, they’ll probably immediately stop. They’ll stop enjoying what they’re doing because now they want to see what they were doing right and try to get some more praise. For many, all kids want is approval, so “good job” harbors their praise junkie nature and limits what they can actually do. The interest in the activity is stunted because now they want to keep the positive comments coming. Why? Because it trains kids to look to their parents for judgments, instead of being self-satisfied in their own work. 

This kind of praise makes kids even more dependent on their parents and superiors than they were before because now they’re trying to please “the man.” They’ve been manipulated into working towards getting a thumbs up, instead of actually working hard at something on their own and for themselves. 

I know, plenty of people still wont get what I’m saying, but here’s another example. You remember when in school, whenever you’d work out a math problem or English question and get called on, sometimes the teacher would ask “Are you sure?” Remember doubting yourself and backtracking, even when you (and the teacher) knew you were correct? Remember when working in groups and being the quiet one, not willing to share and tackle ideas because you weren’t sure if you were on the right track because no one else reassured you? Not everyone was this way, and some of the praise junkies (Hermione Granger) raised their hand higher than the sky and shouted their answer with gusto. But I remember seeing people like that in elementary school and being jealous of their confidence because, even though I had the same answer, I wasn’t as sure as that loud person.

You all know that I work at home, and though I’m constantly wishy-washy about the benefits, I love working for myself. I love when employers come to me asking for my talents, and I hate going out for job interviews and hoping I fit the right mold and wear the right clothes to please please please. I love that I can sit here in my PJs and pineappled hair and figure things out for myself. 

Thinking back to my last and only cubicle job, I remember being dumbed down to needing approval on the data entry I was doing because my boss, uneducated and simple-minded as he was, fancied himself a big dog when really, he did the same data entry we did. He was constantly checking up on us, giving us menial tips that involved keyboard shortcuts to make himself feel more important than he actually was. He worked slowly, and was really the ball of upper management. I’d watch him run around seeking approval and needing help on every little thing. I remember making him squirm whenever I questioned him or raised my voice because I could tell that I had a stronger mind, and job history, than he did. He’d been told “good job” way too much in life, and it was obvious by how easily he’d start doubting himself whenever he was questioned at all. 

When I think about it like that, I see it all around me, people giving up on things because they don’t think they’re good enough. And I admit, I sometimes doubt my work when I’m not sure if I’m on the right track, and have possibly the worst self-image of anyone I know. I’m attributing it to the good jobs I got as a child, and being put down one too many times by Siwa’s ex-wife Trena. 

This is getting long. You probably get my point.

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