Three surprising things NOT to say to kids

Don’t worry, we’ve all said them…

There are a lot of common phrases that we as parents and educators rattle off to kids without thinking much about the meaning that could be interpreted behind it. Some of them are things that we’ve even been told we should say.  Here are three things I bet you’ve said before (I have) and why we need to rethink even our positive communication.

  1. Good Job!-– I know you thought you were doing a good thing when you said this, right?  However, there are several problems here. One is that it is used so frequently today that it has become meaningless. But perhaps the biggest problem, is that it gives the child very little information about what exactly they did that was worth the compliment.  Did they share a toy with brother?  Do their chore without a reminder? Ace the spelling test?  Finally, it implies a reward only when a job meets a certain standard.  Sometimes it is better to say, “You really tried hard on that and I’m proud of you.  Your grade shows how hard you studied,” so that a child recognizes that it isn’t just the end result, but the effort that matters too.
  2. Good boy!  Good girl!  I hear this one all the time.  While it is usually said in an effort to  boost self esteem it actually teaches a child that he or she is “good” because of performing a task or meeting an expectation, rather than that the child is inherently good but sometimes their behavior reflects poor choices.  Much better again to point out the specific behavior and comment on why you feel it was a good choice. “I really like it when you share with your brother.  It makes him happy too. You are a good helper.”
  3. What a beautiful drawing!  You are so artistic!  While you may (or may not) think it is a beautiful picture, the problem here is that the comment does not allow the child to make their own judgement about their picture and ultimately it makes them depend on others to judge their work or effort.  I bet you know children who constantly need feedback and reassurance about everything they do, right?  Instead, we want our children to grow up and have a sense of worth from within not from without. Next time start a dialogue with your child about the picture.  “Wow, I see lots of colors here.  Tell me about your drawing.” Then see where they go with it. You might be surprised. You can then follow up with, “I like how you put so much thought and effort into your work.” The same thing goes for other statements like, “You are so athletic or talented,” When we give a child a label, even a positive one, we we often set them up to not try new things because they are afraid of failing to live up to our expectations and proving the affirmation wrong. Instead, praise the effort, “You’ve really been practicing hard and it shows.” then help them explore the results, “What do you think helped you the most to score so many points in the game?”


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