How Saying "Good Job" with Your Children is NOT GOOD!
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
“Children have a built-in voice recorder. What you say to them, they record inside and repeat back to themselves for a lifetime. The praise you provide must be meaningful and move from sugar praise to nutritional praise.”
– Julie Kurtz, Founder of the Center for Optimal Brain Integration
Most adults scan for the negative. Our brains have evolved this way - to first scan for and notice the negative more than the positive. It is a primitive trait that has protected humans from danger and allowed us to survive in a world filled with hazards. Today, it takes practice and effort on the part of an adult to intentionally scan for positive traits, behaivors or actions with our own children or the children we support.
Children receive an average of 5 corrections or neutral statements for every positive one. How can you shift to acknowledge children with 5 nutritional praise comments to 1 correction or direction statement? Why is this important? What is nutritional praise, and why is it helpful to a child?
Adults help shape the internal narrative for a child. What we say not only has meaning but also affects their self-esteem. This is a powerful position to be in. We can help children cultivate a meaningful internal narrative about who they are and how they impact themselves and the world around them. What you say to a child and the type of praise you use will have long lasting effects that are positive when you move from sugar praise to NUTRITIONAL PRAISE.
SUGAR PRAISE: "Good job", "You are amazing", "I am so proud of you", or "Awesome" are examples of Sugar Praise. These examples are not harmful or bad. The good news is that you acknowledge and notice your child which can help strengthen the connection and relationship. However, too much or using only sugar praise does not provide enough information for the child to understand why they are good, what they did that you are proud of or why they are awesome. They just record in their internal voice recorder, “I am good.” Going deeper with nutritional praise is where the shift happens that will last a lifetime. Sugar praise is quick, fast acting but not long lasting for the child to build a sustainable internal narrative (internal voice recording).
NUTRITIONAL PRAISE has 2 elements. First are the statements that provide the WHAT (saying what you see or observe the child doing) – “You helped your friend when they were sad” or "You cleared the dishes from the table" or "You cleaned up your toys", AND you can provide the WHY (the reason their behavior makes an impact on them, others or the world around them) – “When you helped your friend that was being kind.” With that statement, a child learns the WHAT - you helped your friend (you see me and notice me and commented on what I did) and the WHY - that was being kind (teaching a child that they impact the world and that their behavior was kind).
More Examples of NUTRITIONAL PRAISE
"You cleared the table, that was being helpful", "You sneezed in your elbow, that was being healthy", "You comforted your friend when they were sad, that was very supportive". Nutritional Praise is connecting a positive behavior, intention or action to a value, expectation and providing the “why” behind the behavior. Let’s start with a few more examples of nutritional praise: “You cleaned up your mess, that is so responsible.” “You helped your friend with their homework, you are kind and friendly.” “You focused intently on that project and persisted through even when you wanted to give up.” “You kept your hands to yourself, that is being safe.” This type of nutritional praise provides more data to the inner narrative or voice recorder for the child. They record not only the positive behavior but also the “why” or “reason” behind it. Providing the "why" or "how they impacted themselves, others or the community" is key to why nutritional praise is sustainable across the lifetime in building a positive and meaningful internal dialogue within your child.
Here is another way to look at how to use Nutritional Praise. You say what you observe – you helped your friend. Then you add the why – that is being friendly. The child records in their inner voice recorder “when I help others that is being friendly.” The brain records the benefits of the behaivor much more efficiently, which will lead to more of that very behavior. Why do they do more? For one, when you notice and acknowledge a child, it stimulates the part of the brain (hindbrain or mammal brain) that is responsible for attachment and connection. When someone we care about “sees” us in a positive light, that part of our brain fires up what are called “feel good” hormones. When you add the why, it provides the child with more than just a shot of praise - it reinforces the meaning behind their behavior.
Key tips for Nutritional Praise
- Notice the Positive:
This is the first step. Breaking the habit of only scanning for and noticing negative behaviors. Begin to notice the positive, the good intentions and strengths of a child. To develop this new habit means practice is required to rewire a new habit, and begin to see the strengths and positive. Sometimes, the tendency is to wait until we see it “perfectly” before we praise, but noticing and recognizing small steps toward a positive behavior can scaffold the behavior we hope to see more of.
-Narrate the Positive Behavior:
Say what you see that is the positive intention or strength of the child's behavior! This is a simple way to acknowledge them. For example, “You helped your friend.” “You are really focusing.” "You solved your own problem by yourself.” “You are using a quiet voice.” “I see you are asking for help.” “You focused much longer on that task."
-Connect the Child’s Behavior to an Expectation, Character Trait or Core Value:
Connect the child’s behavior to an expectation, character trait or core value: If you create family or classroom expectations or values such as WE ARE SAFE AND HEALTHY, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE, WE ARE RESPECTFUL and WE ARE FRIENDLY, then you can provide nutritional praise using those as a guide to the “why” behind the behavior.
#1Observe and notice the behaivor "Michelle, you waited in line and kept your hands to yourself".
#2 Connect the observation to an expectation, value or the “why” to make it nutritional praise – “That was being safe.”
Putting #1 and #2 together – “Michelle, you waited in line and kept your hands to yourself. That was being safe.”
For more information and resources, visit Julie Kurtz, Founder of the Center for Optimal Brain Integration™ at www.optimalbrainintegration.com
For more information read Hooked on Praise: Quit saying “Good Job!” by Alfie Kohn