What To Say Instead of “Good Job”

Saying "Good job" can do more harm than good to your child. Here are a few other ways to say good job like "I am proud of you", "high-five", "you did it!", "how creative", and more.

By URLife Team
07 Nov 2023

We all hold a deep love for our children and experience immense pride when they achieve something remarkable. Naturally, we desire to express our pride and support for their accomplishments. One of the most effective ways to nurture their future is by instilling a strong sense of self-worth and confidence in them. That's why we often use the phrase "Good job" to reinforce their achievements.


We see you! Get exclusive access to the best parenting advice from experts. Sign up today.


But did you know that continually using the term “Good job” can have unintended negative consequences?


Consider the scenario of Sam, a four-year-old preschooler who’s passionate about building blocks, and what he’s creating from it. His dedicated efforts catch his father's attention, who, in a moment of pride, enthusiastically utters, "Good job!" In response to the praise, Sam terminates his construction and experiences a surge of happiness, acknowledging his father's approval. Yet, one can't help but wonder what Sam might have achieved and learned had his dad allowed him to continue his task without interruption. The praise undoubtedly felt gratifying, but it inadvertently steered the course of Sam's creative endeavour. The next time Sam sits down with his blocks, his focus is no longer solely on the act of building and expressing his creativity. Instead, his gaze is drawn to his father, seeking validation and praise. This shift in attention means that rather than completing an elaborate castle or other imaginative structures, Sam might prematurely cease his construction, eagerly awaiting his father's acknowledgement.


A 2017 observational-longitudinal study in the journal Child Development, found that parents frequently provide children with excessively positive and inflated praise that establishes unrealistic standards for children, which may, over time, negatively impact their self-esteem (referred to as the self-deflation hypothesis). Another perspective posits that children may internalise this inflated praise, leading to the development of narcissistic self-views (known as the self-inflation hypothesis).


Related Post: Parent’s Guide To Teaching Children Correct Pronouns And Binaries


Reasons To Stop Saying “Good job”

The development of a child's self-worth often depends on how adults perceive them, which can create a significant issue. According to a 2023 report by the Child Mind Institute, children tend to rely on external motivation for their behaviour, rather than being driven by intrinsic motivation to accomplish tasks. In simpler terms, children may require the promise of a reward to prompt their actions, rather than finding satisfaction in task completion or the joy of learning itself.


While praise feels gratifying to children and even to adults, it's not as prevalent in the adult world. Therefore, if a child is consistently raised with the expectation of praise for every small achievement, they may come to anticipate constant validation in adulthood, which is unlikely to occur. There are numerous drawbacks to excessively praising a child, and it's important to consider these consequences carefully.


The child becomes less motivated

Excessive use of phrases like "Good job!" can inadvertently shift a child's focus from intrinsic motivation to external validation. When children constantly seek praise, they may become less motivated to engage in activities simply for the joy of learning and self-fulfilment.


The child loses risk-taking and creativity skills

Overreliance on praise may lead children to opt for tasks or activities they are certain will receive approval rather than taking risks or exploring their creative abilities. This can hinder their ability to develop problem-solving skills and think outside the box.


Their self-esteem is sabotaged

While praise is crucial for building a child's self-esteem, excessive or insincere praise can lead to a skewed self-concept. When children receive praise for everything, it can become difficult for them to distinguish genuine accomplishments from routine tasks, potentially leading to unrealistic self-assessments.


The kid continuously seeks reward

Continual praise can instil an expectation of rewards for every action, setting a problematic precedent for future behaviour. This can make it challenging for children to act without the promise of external incentives, which is not a sustainable model for life.


The kid's long-term growth is shortened

Frequent "Good job!" comments tend to emphasise short-term achievements rather than long-term growth and learning. Children may become more concerned with receiving praise for immediate results, potentially neglecting the perseverance and effort required for skill development and personal growth.


Related Post: 20 Phrases Your Child Wants To Hear


15 Things To Say Instead of Good Job

According to a 2019 report by Parenting Science, a more significant consequence of repeatedly using the phrase "Good job!" with children is that it often places excessive emphasis on the end result rather than recognising their motivation and effort. Striking a balance between expressing pride in our children and conveying the reality that not everything they create will be universally appreciated can be a challenging task.


One straightforward approach to reduce the use of "good job" or "nice work" is by substituting these praise-heavy expressions with more neutral alternatives.


Here are some synonym responses to replace "Good job!"


1. “Hmm!” Offer a smile and a nod. (Refrain from verbal praise)

When a child proudly brings you a completed puzzle, respond with a thoughtful "Hmm!" Maintain eye contact, and engage in active listening. What insights will the child offer about their puzzle?  Keep on smiling and nodding. Then, pay close attention.


2. “Tell me about this!”

If a child approaches you with a rather abstract artwork or project, encourage them to open up by saying, "Tell me about this!" Be prepared to be surprised by what the child has to share.


3. “I can see that you put a lot of detail into your picture.”

When a child has created a vibrant chalkboard masterpiece using pink and blue chalk, and excitedly shows it to you, acknowledge their efforts by saying, "I can see that you've been using pink and blue chalk."


4. “You did that all by yourself!”

As a child skillfully chops strawberries into a bowl and eagerly invites you to inspect their achievement, offer your recognition with, "You look proud. Are you? I'm happy that you've learned how to chop your own strawberries. It's great to be able to serve yourself when you're hungry."


5. “Describe it or How did you do it?”

When a child presents you with a handcrafted book they've authored, complete with handwritten text and illustrations, and you recognise its similarity to their favourite bedtime storybook, show your interest by saying, "You've created your own book. Describe it to me. How did you go about making it?"


6. “I appreciate your hard work / effort.”

If a child loads the dishwasher with precision and eagerly seeks your approval, acknowledge their achievement by saying, "Tell me how you loaded the dishwasher, and thanks for your hard work!"


7. “Your face looks happy! It feels so good to see you smile.”

When a child requests you to watch them perform a physical feat on the playground, and you notice the joy on their face, respond with, "Your face looks happy! It feels so good to stretch your muscles, doesn't it?"


8. A hug

A warm hug or a reassuring pat on the shoulder can convey a wealth of emotions and support, serving as a powerful way to connect with a child without the need for words. The key is to offer physical affection regularly, regardless of specific behaviours, to strengthen the bond with the little one.


9. “What was the most challenging part about learning to ride?”

After a child has successfully learned to ride a bike up and down the block, ask them, "What was the most challenging part about learning to ride? And what was the easiest part?"


10. “Hmm... I'm curious to see what your next creation will be.”

When a child arranges dominoes in a fascinating pattern that topples over, respond with intrigue by saying, "Hmm... I'm curious to see what your next creation will be."


11. “You did it!”

When a child has put in considerable effort to write their name correctly, and they finally succeed, offer a heartfelt acknowledgement with a simple "You did it!"


12. “You worked hard on that project.”

Upon witnessing a child's imaginative invention crafted from straws, paper towel rolls, masking tape, and paper clips, express your amazement with, "Wow! May I have a turn to try your invention? How does it work? Could you demonstrate it for me?"


13. “Thank you!”

When a child presents you with a heartfelt love note in pictorial form that they've created specifically for you, respond with gratitude, saying, "Thank you! I appreciate you thinking of me." Never underestimate the power of a simple expression of thanks!


14. “How creative.”

When a child proudly shows you a creatively decorated paper aeroplane they've made, inquire with genuine curiosity, "How did you come up with the idea for this?" This is really creative and it must have taken a lot of time and patience as well. 


15. “I’m proud of you for being honest and returning the money.”

Your child has found money lying on the table or on the bed and has come to you to tell you about it. Praise the child for their honesty and reinforces the positive behaviour and you say,"you know what, I'm really proud of you for what you did." You could have hid it from me, but you didn't. You returned it, and that shows me how honest you are. Honesty is when we do the right thing even when no one is looking, and you did just that. 


We see you! Get exclusive access to the best parenting advice from experts. Sign up today.



Follow Us On Instagram