how to give your baby "props"

Photos taken by Iryna Sosnovska during an in-home consultation visit. 

There are many "go to" sayings that I've heard teachers say in my experience as an early childhood teacher and center director. Some of them that stuck out to me were "no thank you" "we don't do that" and "good job!" There's so much I can say about the sayings "no thank you" or "we don't do that" but I'll save that for another post. One thing that I always felt these sayings (and many others) had in common, were how confusing they were, especially to young children. The reason I was most interested in reflecting on the "good job" one is because it was, and still is, something that I reflexively say when I want to encourage young children, even infants. Young children and babies are so cute that we just want to validate and encourage every little thing they do! I still have to catch myself sometimes before saying it. It's a habit that I think every one of us has succumbed to at some point and, if not, its definitely something we hear often when babies and young children are around. 

Anyway, I started to think about the words "good job" and what we were really conveying when we said it. If the purpose of saying "good job" is encouragement, can't we use other language that actually means more? For instance, when we see a baby working really hard to reach for a toy (and we actually have enough self control to not move the toy in front of them) and we see them scooching, planking, squirming for seconds, even minutes until they finally reach it, can't we say, "you did it! I saw how hard you worked and you reached the toy!" Isn't that more clear than saying "good job?" Not only that, but after awhile, doesn't saying "good job" lose its meaning? Eventually young children just look to us to say it because they're conditioned to think its the way we approve of them when they do something that warrants a cheer from us. To me, I think its best to actually say what they've done so that they can become motivated by their actions instead of motivated by hearing us say a "good job."

Some of the things I like to say instead of "good job" are:

"I saw how hard you worked on that!"  

"You must be so proud of yourself" 

or simply saying "I saw that!" all with a big smile on our faces. 

I thought a lot about this and then someone sent me this article that was published in Parents Magazine in 2000 titled "Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job." You can find it here

I gave out this article in one of my classes and a mom asked me why it was such a bad thing to say "good job" so I want to emphasize that by no means do I think it's detrimental to say the words "good job." I just think there are better, more effective ways of conveying the same sense of encouragement. Also, I think everyone would agree that one of the most important things we want to teach our children is to become motivated from within. We want them to play for the sake of playing, to accomplish goals because they want to, and to reach new milestones when they're ready and up for the challenge.  Simple acknowledgement can do just that while also remaining genuine, authentic and real with our children. So the next time we want to say "good job" when they eat their food, maybe we need to think "do I want my child to eat because I say good job after, or do I want him to eat when he's hungry?" So instead we can say what actually happened which is, "wow! you finished all your dinner! You must've been hungry."