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Friday, November 23, 2012

40 ways to Praise your child without Praising them

For most parents saying ‘Good job’ or ‘well done’ is automatic, it is considered a part of positive parenting and we very rarely even think about it when we say it. So many parenting advice books say ignore bad behaviour and reward good, so it’s something that is built into our parenting collective conscious. For me it was like an automatic tic, I said it whenever I could see my son had achieved something be it small or large. It required little thought and no follow through. It was easy.

Then I read some Alfie Kohn and some Teacher Tom and I reviewed my opinions.

I won’t go into a long spiel about why using non specific praise and positive feedback isn’t ideal, because there are many people who can speak more eloquently on this topic than I ever could. What I will say is that saying ‘good job’ and offering non specific praise does nothing to build confidence or let your child find their inner motivation. Using the carrot and the stick does not breed free thinking or critical thought; it breeds affirmation seeking and compliance. This is not me saying that praise is bad, there are times when it is totally appropriate and if you use one of those phrases inadvertently you are not damaging your child or destroying their independence forever. Parenting doesn’t work like that.

When I first heard about this whole inner motivation thing I was irritated because all of the blogs I read about it focussed on why it was wrong and had an overwhelming message of ‘tsk tsk don’t do it’. So I filed it under yet another way that I am Doing. It. Wrong. But, for all of that, these articles sung for me a little because I personally seek praise all of the time, and if someone criticises my ideas then I am easily brought down. It irritates me that I am so reliant on external feedback and it’s only later in life that I have built the confidence to be satisfied in my own right. Even now I struggle with criticism, so maybe this Alfie Kohn isn’t so wrong after all.

So in saying all of that, this blog is not about how you shouldn’t parent, we have enough of those. This blog is about what you CAN do. Here is a little tool kit of things you can say instead of ‘good job’ and even if you do say good job from time to time. It’s not a biggie, the parenting police won’t come and get you. I promise.

What to say when they’ve done something helpful.

Thank you for that

I really appreciate your help

That was really helpful

Because you did X we can now do Y

That was very kind

It really helps me when you do X

It’s really nice when you help me out

Doing X makes me feel good

I love helping you

When they achieved something great or they impress you

Look you did it
Did that feel good?

I am really impressed at how you (be specific)

I can see what you did there

I see that you did x y z

It looks like you thought really hard about that

I can see you put a lot of effort into that

Wow, look at all of those colours/shapes etc

I see that you did this and look what happened

You have been practicing that for a long time

You worked really hard on that and I can tell!

Wow, how many colours did you use?

How did you do that?

I’m impressed, how do you feel about that?

Tell me about what you did.


When they show empathy and kindness

I bet x felt really great when you shared that with them
It feels nice when your brother sister is smiles doesn’t it

Look at your brother smile, he loves playing with you

It makes me so happy when you share with me

That cuddle made me feel happy

That was very kind to share your x with y

General praise (for those little achievements in life)

I see you worked together to do this

I see you thought really hard about that

How exciting for you

I like to see you thinking about things

I really like to see you play

Seeing you enjoy your game makes me happy

I bet that feels much better now that you pooped/changed your clothes/wiped nose etc

Does that feel better?

Now that you’ve done x, y happened

If in doubt.

Be specific – if you’re going to praise make it very specific rather than a general ‘good job’
Don’t assign a grade or rating (good/bad etc)

Speak from the heart - if you are impressed then say it

Ask questions – people love it when you are interested in what they are doing

Make observations – just stating what you see can be perfect in itself

Talk about consequences – doing this resulted in this

Say nothing and just enjoy being in their creative space

It takes a bit of practice and sometimes I am lost for words, or my comments come out garbled. Sometimes I miss an opportunity to appeal to their inner motivation and fall back on old habits, but it doesn't matter. Sometimes parenting is just about enjoying each moment as it passes and then moving on to the next one. I have noticed a shift in my sons confidence levels since changing my language and that has been nice. It's like watching a flower unfold. Worth a shot?


  1. What a lovely, thoughtful post. Thanks for the ideas!

  2. This is great because it allows the occasional 'Well done!' to spring out, hopefully without feeling guilty about it ... I do hope that if this is an occasional phrase rather than a constant 'tic' it's meaning with remain in place = You did that well.

    I also like the fact that your viewpoint on this allows the parent to reflect their feelings. Ok, I get from Alfie Kohn and others that it is really not our feelings about the achievement that is important, but when encouraging children to say how they feel about a variety of situations it seems really hard (and sometime impossible) not to express pride in your child, or satisfaction in how they have handled a situation.

    Your post hits a nice 'middle ground' which encourages me to use better phrases without making me feel terrible for seeing some value in the 'old ways'. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for some scripts!
    One thing I noticed in some of them, though, is that you say things like, "this made me feel xxx..." I have been working very hard with my children to instead recognize how they feel but then saying, "When you did this, I felt this," because others truly cannot make you feel anything. You can feel a certain way, and it is very healthy to recognize it, and now I try to be very careful to not put my feelings onto someone else's responsibility.

  4. Thanks for update your knowledgeable important decision based information. It is very useful for every parents. Its right way Reward good behavior. Praise your child and give extra attention when he or she does something right. Give a reward for good behavior.
    Dr Amit Bang
    Child care specialist
    Nutrition Planning classes