How often do we as parents and teachers say, “Good job!” in response to something our child or student has done? Feedback like this comes out of our mouths so often that it is habitual. It is only when we try to eliminate this kind of encouragement that we notice how hooked we are on it.
So, what is wrong with encouraging someone this way? After all, it is only a compliment and a way to reinforce positive actions of the child, right? What we are not realizing is that in our never ending use of “good job!” and other similar “good …..!” sentiments, we are making ourselves the external determiner of what is good and what is not good. Since we are so ingrained to think of good vs bad in our society, it doesn’t even occur to us that this is a lesson in being judgmental. Everyone, even children, has their own sense of what they like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work, and likewise, what is good and what is not good.
Perhaps even more importantly, praising with “good job!” is also a lesson that teaches our children to look for outside recognition and approval for what they do. Wouldn’t we rather our children do something for an inherent internal feeling than for some external need for praise or as a way to avoid blame?
When we allow our children to decide for themselves whether they’ve done a good job or not, we give them Independence and Autonomy. These are major human emotional needs. When we give our children feedback and encouragement, it is important for us to take responsibility for our own preferences and tell them what we like about what they’ve done or what we didn’t like. We don’t want to teach them to like something because it is “good.” We want to encourage our charges to sense what is good for them, what they like and help them to get their needs met in healthy ways.
Giving feedback is more of challenge than I ever thought. Our words and language are loaded and can be used in many conscious and unconscious ways. Becoming aware of how we communicate with our children is another interesting way to be insightful about our own development. I just keep learning.
For more information about communicating, I recommend Marshall B. Rosenberg’s writings, specifically “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.” He is the founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. http://www.cnvc.org/ and Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn.
This was originally posted for Hip Slope Mama, a Park Slope Blogazine. www.HipSlopeMama.blogspot.com.