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Good Job!
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Children need encouragement, and most parents understand that. Maybe that's why we hear the words, “Good job!” so often. While intended to raise the self-confidence of the child, have you thought that maybe instead it encourages external locus of control and can slow the learning of developmental tasks?

Yes, “Good job!” has a nice ring to it. It's expedient and said with good intentions. On the other hand, it says we approve of what they did instead of telling them what they did well. We make the judgment, and they don't get any real information to use in their future choices.

For toddlers it means we are depriving them of part of the “bath of language” from which they learn their vocabulary and how to speak. “Good job!” is a paltry offering for language development when we could have said, “You made circles with the bright green crayon!”

I invite you to hold on to your good intentions, but consider the following pairs of responses. Say each statement out loud to yourself with pride and pleasure in your voice and think about how they might strike a child:


“Good job!” or “Thanks for calling me.”


“Good job!” or “You got out from under the table all by yourself.”


“Good job!” or You brought three books to me. Which one shall we read first?”


“Good job!” or “I like the way you colored the tree in your picture. What do you like?”


“Good job!” or “Hey, you got an A on that paper. Tell me how you did that.”


“Good job!” or “You must be learning how to set priorities in order to get that long term paper done so well.”

“Good job!” is appropriate if we are teaching specific standards for a specific skill. Even then, we need to point out which parts were well done. Children who are constantly judged with “good job” messages figure out that there is a counter “bad job” message. They may choose to stay safe and get the “good job” rewards , rather than continue exploring and using their God-given creativity.

What if, in the child's mind, he did a sloppy job, wasn't all that interested, and is somewhat disappointed with the outcome? When the adult says, “Good job!” what is he supposed to do? Unfortunately, it becomes a message that says he doesn't know what he knows. This can be just one more step in developing a coping system of discounting his own awareness of himself, his work, and his potential.

God tells us all that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that we are created for His purpose. The only time in Scripture where He says the equivalent of “Good job!” was during the creation week process (Genesis 1:31). That was not about what we had done, but about what He had done for us.

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By Susan E. Murray. Portions reprinted with permission from the Lake Union Herald, June 2007. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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