When we give children praise like, “Good job!”, it may make them feel good for a moment, but what does it really tell them about the job they’ve done? In reality, it only tells them that they’ve completed the task to our satisfaction. They’ve gained the approval of an adult, which seems to be the only thing that makes their work worthwhile. It is temporarily nice, but doesn’t give the child a chance to reflect on how she achieved the outcome or discover the joy of self-motivation.
Instead of vague compliments that encourage the child to work for external approval, try specific, process-oriented praise that develops the child’s internal drive and sense of self-worth:
“I like how you really thought about your answer before saying it.”
“Good job finding your mistake and fixing it yourself.”
“You know what? I saw that you got a little discouraged when it didn’t go right the first time, but you didn’t get upset or give up!”
“You kept working until you finished the job!”
By providing an external reflection on how the child achieved the desired outcome, we help them build their own self-reflecting skills. Next time, perhaps the child will be able to reflect on his own “plan of attack” for problem solving without needing an adult’s “scaffold.”
This kind of praise also teaches the child a lesson, however subtle, about his or her own self-worth. Instead of the child receiving praise only for a good outcome, we praise the child for good work ethic, thinking skills, and perseverance. The child’s self-worth is not tied up in how well he does on a certain project or test. Regardless of how hard the task is, even if the child is completely overmatched, he can do well by doing his personal best. Now that’s a lesson we all can learn!