Words, Rewards, and Beauty (Oh, My!)

I'm growing a little weary of hearing how I should be neutral in my dealings with my children. Don't clap for baby-ish cutesy things. No getting excited when your toddler masters the slide for the first time. Don't overdo positive reinforcement. Certainly don't use negative reinforcement. Let them discover the joy of accomplishment without external influence!

Praise is good! No, wait, it's bad. That's not right. Generic praise is bad, specific praise is good. Hang on, all praise is iffy. Unless it's encouragement. Then it's not really praise after all. It's . . . um . . . what were we talking about again?

Guess what? I tell my kids "good job!" all the freaking time. And I don't feel bad about it, or like I'm destroying their sense of self or intrinsic motivation. (I even know what terms like "intrinsic motivation" mean. I have a psychology degree and I'm not afraid to use it.)

And I'm not buying the whole extrinsic rewards are evil, either. Tell me you've never enjoyed a good performance review? Accolades on a fabulous meal from your dinner party guests? Oh, I don't know, a paycheck? All external rewards, no?

I probably uttered some indiscriminate praise here
Personally, we don't use rewards/punishments around here, because they don't work for my kids. Honestly, they couldn't care less about a flipping sticker chart. And take away a privilege? Totally doesn't affect them; they just move on to something else. 

But believe me there have been times I would have promised a pony ride to Disneyland while eating ice cream if I could get just one pee in the potty and not on the floor.

On a related note, I tell my daughters they are beautiful. And I mean it in both the inside and the outside sense. But really, I often just mean they look pretty, or totally cute, or incredibly adorable. So I tell them: Girls, you are beautiful! Every. single. day. 

I tell my son the same thing.

I believe it's more about the relationship you have with your child/children and what kind of conversations you have with them in general. Is "good job" one of many meaningful interactions you've had with them while playing with them and making a conscious effort to be in the moment? Or is it a knee-jerk reaction to a plea for attention from across the room, mindlessly slipped off the tongue when you didn't even look their way?

Seriously, people out there belittle and shame their children on a regular basis. I ask you to please give me a pass for tossing a few nonchalant "great work, honey" comments at my kids. They are not ruined. (In spite of the fact that entire books, websites, and blogs would like to argue otherwise.) They are pretty darn awesome. 


  1. My husband gives the mindless "good job" all the freakin' time. It's so annoying, but I haven't figured out how to address it without a big fight.

    I still don't get the big deal with praise. I mean if I don't tell my kids how wonderful they are, then who will? It certainly won't be their future bosses. Or is that what we're supposed to be preparing them for? I just don't want them to ever have to wonder if their mother thinks they're smart/beautiful/fun/kind/whatever.

    1. Don't even get me started on the insanity of the whole "preparing kids for disappointment" thing. I could rant for days. But it probably wouldn't be very nice :-|

  2. I have an autistic kid and the reward (OK... "reinforcement") that works the best is social praise. He knows "good job" is for minor things and that he gets applause for something big. My argument to people who would tell me I'm wrong is that unless they have the c-section scar from him, they can shut their mouths. I know my kid -- they don't.