Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Saying "Good Job" is a Bad Job, Parents

You know, as a parent, when you do something wrong. When I was working, I was the last parent to pick up Johnny at daycare one time. That was more than a year ago, and he still brings it up.

Often, I get in arguments with my 3 year old, Richie, over things like eating carrots. Arguing with a child, a teacher once told me, is like mud wrestling with a pig. You both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it. But I don't think either of us enjoys it. It's just that Richie doesn't know any better.

Also, he thinks that by yelling, "That's not a big idea!" he wins the fight, even as he sits in timeout. And somehow, I always feel like I lost.

There are plenty of mistakes to be made in parenting that become clear as soon as you make them.

But parenting experts can't keep their jobs if they tell you about obvious mistakes. Instead, they have to find obscure errors. Things you're doing wrong without even knowing it.

Like telling your children, "Good job."

That is way too vague, a recent Associated Press article said.

They need not only specific praise, but gender-specific praise, says British parenting counselor and consultant Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer in the article.

Praising boys in flowery superlatives, for instance, makes them "uncomfortable."

Make no mistake. Boys need praise. It's just that if you praise them, they will feel responsible for your happiness. So it's a wash.

Don't even get this expert started on girls. If they hear, "Good job," they feel good. Temporarily. This kind of praise starts them on a downward cycle of needing approval for every little thing they do.

I imagine that before you know it, your daughter is a grown woman brushing her teeth, thinking, "No one is saying anything. I'm brushing every last tooth in my head but not getting any compliments. Am I doing this wrong?"

And parents only have themselves to blame for praising her unspecifically.

What to do? Substitute "clever," "thoughtful," and "creative" for "good."

But don't be too wordy, lest the children misinterpret your words.

Example: You say, "That's a clever creation. What a thoughtful child!"

The child broods. "What did mom mean by 'clever'? And since when am I a 'thoughtful' child? Whatever happened to 'good job'? Is mom making a vague reference to my work ethic?"

Again, all your fault. You should have never praised him so wordily.

So here's what you do, the article says. You ask questions. Ask them what they were thinking when they painted something.

After reading the article, I think that's too vague and leaves room for misinterpretation, due to the popular catch phrase, "What were you thinking?"

Instead, I recommend asking specific questions like, "That's an interesting choice to color the elephants blue. Is that a reference to the Republican states?" and "Who are your major influences?" and "In spite of your obvious political references in your art work, you seem to have stayed out of the political limelight so far. Was that a conscious choice?"

When I ask these things, Richie might just keep coloring, seemingly oblivious to my parenting skills. But I can see his self-esteem swelling. Or can I? Am I doing a clever job? I am? Well, what is that supposed to mean?

All I can hope for is that when he grows up, he'll be happy. No that's not all. On Mother's Day some year, I'd like him to tell me, in whatever words, actions, or facial expressions he chooses, "Good job."


Anonymous mom said...

Great Job is more like it for you!

6:34 AM  

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