In my completely unbiased opinion, I work with some of the best children, families, and Listening and Spoken Language Specialist candidates in the world. But this year, I’ve decided to stop telling them that they’re doing a good job. Here’s why…
During a session, if I tell a child, “Good listening!” what does that really mean? Was the listening “good” because the child was attentive? Quiet? Followed the direction correctly? Who knows?
If I praise a parent with “Great prompting!” does she know that her prompt was “good” because it was delivered at the right time? She chose the correct strategy? It helped her child correct his speech? Your guess is as good as mine!
If I compliment one of my LSLS Mentees with, “Nice plan!” does that mean that the plan was comprehensive? That the goals were on target? That her activities led to lots of listening and talking? There’s no way to know!
Giving praise like “Good job!” is unspecific. All the listener knows is that I have evaluated their performance on the “job” (what job do I mean?) as “good” (by what standard?). Even worse, when we use praise like “Good boy” or “Good girl” we’re sending the message to the child that their whole being is good/bad based on one thing that they’ve done. When children (or adults, or colleagues) are dependent on our feedback, cheers, and rewards to validate their performance, we’re creating a generation of “praise junkies” who struggle to find internal motivation and function independently.
Instead, I suggest that we rethink praise, put away our gold stars, confetti cannons, and pom poms, and start to give real, authentic feedback. It’s easy to do: tell the person what you saw happen AND how that led to a desired effect. I want the child (parent, mentee) to walk away knowing exactly what he did and what happened as a result.
Instead of “Good listening!” try, “You were really concentrating when Mom told you the shopping list, and you remembered all five things to buy at the store!”
Instead of “Great prompting!” try, “When you leaned in close to Josh’s CI microphone, it helped him to hear the /f/ sound and fix his articulation!”
Instead of “Nice plan!” try, “Your plan for this session was really comprehensive! You covered goals in all domains and helped the child grow across the board.”
None of these tell the person how to feel about what they did, or that they are a good/bad person, or that I have deemed their performance “excellent!” or “good!” or “terrific!” It’s just an external voice observing what happened and helping them connect their effort to a good outcome.
We can also help children (and adults) to build internal motivation and self-monitoring skills by giving them the opportunity to evaluate their own performance. After all, none of the children on my caseload want me to follow them to college! My goal is to make myself obsolete, so I need to help the children and families I serve become conscious of their own skills and needs for growth. You can ask a child, “How did that sound to you?” if she misarticulates a word. Or, “What do you think would have helped you follow the direction?” if she misses something due to inattention. Ask parents to reflect on what they did during the session that helped their child the most, and which areas they feel that they need more support in figuring out what to do. When coaching mentees, most come in with a laundry list of self-critiques, so it’s also important to me to have them identify their strengths.
When we “give up on good” and start to get real, we communicate more clearly, build stronger relationships, and help develop the internal motivation to succeed.