Two little words make me want to jump out of my skin... such a simple phrase and yet it can wreak such havok.
There is no faster way to shut a child down than with a “Good Job!”
Even an enthuastic "Good Job!" Or a caring and compassionate "Good Job!" Is this sounding crazy to you? Picture it..
Young Michaela just finished her painting after an hour of hard work and creativity. She is thrilled about her project and there is an aura of pleasure and accomplishment in the air.
You, Caregiver Extraordinaire, are busy making dinner and Michaela’s younger brother, James, is having you test him on his vocab words while you chop veggies. (Look at y'all go!)
Michaela approaches the counter, beaming. She says “Look! I finished!” as she holds up her artwork. You say, “Oh wow, Michaela. Good job!”
And boom. That’s done.
You’ve emotionally patted her on the head and she can be on her way now.
It devastates me when I hear Parents, Nannies, Teachers, and other Caregiving adults shut down a child with a “Good Job!” Or a “I love it!”
I can feel the defeat. Their deflated accomplishment. That's it.
OBSERVE. ASK QUESTIONS. BE INTERESTED!
“I SEE you used a lot of blue.. “
“Those are interesting color choices- why’d you pick them?”
What is it of? (Please, don’t assume that because it has whiskers and a tail, it’s a cat. You don’t know what elephants look like in swimming pools on Mars!”) Where does ____ live? What do they eat there? Do they have a family?
Expand on their imagination. Push them further.
And when you acknowledge, or praise, make it about their EFFORT!- how hard they worked. How much thought and creativity they put into it. How innovative they were. It’s not about their ability! That can grow.. but not if they have any stigma attached to being “good” or “bad” at it.
And whenever kids ask you "Do you like it?" (and we know that is the GOLDEN question), I always try to flip it first and see if that satisfies it- "Well, do YOU like it?" Sometimes they'll respond and that'll be it. Sometimes it's a "Yeah, but do you?" And then I'll go back to including something specific about what they did. It's not about them being an artist, or my approval.
We want kids who are confident, empowered, self-assured, risk-takers, and who possess WILD imagination.
It's not easy. There are times when a "Good Job" is truly all you can offer. And it's a balancing act, sure. You can't be engaged 100% of the time (unless you're super-human, or you've found some special vitamin at Whole Foods that keeps you mindful all the time, and if so, please be a pal and pass that along!) We're all doing the best we can. Modeling that is perhaps the most important part. (Even sharing with them in those moments when you don't have time/energy to give them more than a "Good Job" that you'd like to hear more about it when you aren't swamped with x, y, or z." Keep trying! We're all in this together!
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