Praise: Why “Good Job” Isn’t Good Enough

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Saying “I love you” and “great job” are phrases parents say all the time.  Often parents are so busy and frustrated that they say these words, but the child does not hear them.  Why?  The negative and often critical phrases that they hear all day are more powerful.  If you tell your child ” Your late again!” or ” Why can’t you do what I say the first time?”, they remember them, the negative charge decreases their feelings of accomplishment and self-esteem; comments like these stick with a child, and positive statements become obsolete, leading to low self worth.  If you think about it they are faced with these comments from others all day too.  Whether its a teacher “Timmy you really need to study harder” or a friend “My doll is prettier than your doll.”  Kids are faced with an enormous amount of negative feedback on a daily basis.

Dr. John Gottman reports that most parents say 5:1 critical or negative comments to their children, shouldn’t it be the other way around?    With generously using positive statements a child’s self esteem is boosted. Self-esteem is the beliefs or feelings that we have about ourselves, our self perceptions.  Self-esteem influences our attitudes, relationships, behaviors, and emotions.  Self-esteem can also be defined as the combination of feeling of being loved.  A child who is happy and has been recognized with achievements, if not loved still feels internally empty.

Low self-esteem is linked to a variety of behavioral and mental health problems, that your child can develop now, or later in life.  If I had a dollar for every young adult who told me,” My parents never told me they were proud of me, maybe they said it but they said a lot of things that made me believe otherwise” I would be a very wealthy woman.   It is never to late to help your child develop a healthy self-esteem.  Here are some tips to assist you and your child.

  • A good rule of thumb:  praise your child on the process rather than just the accomplishment. So “Great effort on that homework kiddo” instead of just “thanks for finishing your homework”.  This lets him know that you notice how hard he is working. 
  • Use phrases that can be generic but add your own unique twist. Rather than just “Super job!” try “Super Job on cleaning your room, it looks great!”  Adding what the praise is for helps a child feel accomplished.
  • Here are some phrases to get you started: Nice try! That really helped me! Way to go! That was awesome! I am proud of your effort! Keep up the good work! I am so proud of you! You made my day! You are such a hard worker! Thank you! Wow!  You are so special!  Well done!  Fantastic!  Great job!  Super Job!  You’ve got it!  Beautiful job!  You are unstoppable!  What a good idea!  Great job following directions!  You are such a good listener!  Good for you!  Keep it up!  You are unique!  You are so creative!  You are so precious!  You’re a winner!  I like when you do that!  Great try!  Fantastic Job!  Terrific!  You’re important!  You’re Phenomenal!   You’re such a trooper!  Super work!  You’re fun!  Great job sharing!  You are caring!  What an imagination!  Great effort!  You make me happy!  I trust you!  Outstanding behavior!  You played nicely!  You are a good friend!  I respect you!  Thank you for being respectful!  You mean the world to me!  You make me laugh!  You are wonderful!  You’re a joy!  Keep up the good work! Bravo!  Super!  You’re the best!  You made my day!  That was a good try!  I love you

Remember try and counter any negative or critical statement with a positive statement 5:1 positives versus 5:1 negatives, it helps create a child, and eventually an adult, who feels good about themselves.

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  1. WriterMama says:

    Nice article! The message that, without noticing it, parents offer more criticisms than compliments is an important one that, frankly, needs to be repeated often. With a good editor your message would be much clearer and more powerful, however. I no longer edit web pages, but I’m sure there are many qualified web editors out there who will improve your essay for a reasonable fee. You should seek them out.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by New Moon Girl Media, Emily Roberts, LPC. Emily Roberts, LPC said: Praise: Why "Good Job" Isn't Good Enough: tips for parents on increasing ur child's self esteem #parenting [...]

  3. This is something a struggle with everyday! Everyday stresses can leave little time for nice words. Thank you for sharing these best practices!

  4. Beata Ross says:

    I guess we get so caught up in our frustrations sometimes that we don’t pay attention on how we aim it at our children. My daughter has been acting a little different lately and I am not sure what the cause of it is, she’s been having an attitude and not listening, when I try to talk to her she makes faces and mummbles at me. She started at a new school this year SK, made a friend, but I don’t want to point at anyone without seeing examples of bad behaviour from her friend. I have asked her questions about how they play together at school, I invited her friend over to have a play day, It seemed to go well but my mom told me that my daughter mentioned to her that her friend always says she is prettier than my daughter. I approached my daughter in different ways with her attitude, nothing seems to work, today she told me a little lie and I asked her who taught her to lie and that it was okay, she said her friend which I do believe because I heard her tell a lie to her mom other times. Today I was a little harsh on her, told her she cannot watch anything or play with any of her toys, I also sort of yelled at her, which I hate doing, made me feel awful and I bet she didn’t feel good either. Reading your article made me feel even worse, but made me realize if they sence a negativeness from us how can they feel positive themselves. Our frustrations sort of take over and we criticise in a negative way, I just never really paid attention to how much negativeness really comes out of our mouth and actions.
    I thank you greatly for opening my eyes and reminding me to try to approach things in a positive way no matter how we feel about our days, because trully seeing them smile and feel happy and confident about themselves is what makes us happy at the end of the day.

  5. I know I’ve had this conversation with friends…we’re sure the zingers we’ve nailed our kids with (unintentionally!) will give them material at their psychiatrist appointments later in life… 5 positives for any one negative, got it, will try! LOVE what I’m reading on this blog, and found on your website. Do you travel to AZ ever? I volunteer in West Valley Supporters of Gifted (a parents support group for gifted children), and I think you would be a wonderful guest speaker!

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