• Good Job: Why It’s Not Used in the Montessori Classroom

    “Good Job”

    Each generation believes theirs is the greatest generation of all time. As a Gen Xer, I certainly think this. Our parents were Baby Boomers who, it’s safe to say were clearly irritated with the simple presence of Gen X as children if the number of times my own parents said things like children were to “be seen and not heard”. As a latch-key kid I was rarely seen nor heard by my parents. We became the “problem solving” generation primarily as a survival instinct while we raised ourselves.

    So, what did we, the Gen Xer’s do? We made sure our children did not have to go through the same painful experiences we felt we went through. We became the parent generation that is super involved, overprotective and focused on making sure everything was fair. We thought we were setting the stage for our children to be wildly successful by clearing the obstacles in our children’s path.

    One very common thing Gen X parents begin to do is praising our children for the smallest task. “You got up out of a chair, good job!”

    Let’s talk about this phrase, “Good Job”.

    You are likely wondering well, why? What’s so bad about saying “Good Job?”

    In the Montessori classroom, guides don’t say “Good Job” to the children. This is done specifically to avoid placing judgment on a child’s work. As educators it is our hope that children do not spend a lot of time, whether in the Montessori classroom or at home, in search of an adult’s praise. We want them to choose and work with activities based on what interests them, because they want to do it – not because they feel they are pleasing an adult by doing so.
    When we place a label like “good” or “bad” upon a task that a child is doing in order to satisfy their own developmental needs, we take the ownership away from them. All of a sudden, their work is about US and what WE think.

    When a new milestone is reached, however small, many adults first reaction is often, ‘Good Job! That’s amazing! I’m so proud of you.’ While these are really positive things to say, one must consider the impact to your child’s development.

    How can we respond to a child’s work in a way that acknowledges them, but doesn’t get in the way of their ownership over a task? What’s more powerful than “Good Job?”

    How about, “You did it.”?

    This simple phrase says so much. When spoken warmly and with a smile, a simple “You did it” allows the child to reflect upon their own accomplishments: “I did do it, didn’t I!”

    And that sense of accomplishment and pride allows the child to move on to bigger things with a confidence in themselves that no “good job” could ever impart.

    “Good Job” implies that we are the ones who judge our children’s work and behavior, rather than empowering them to reflect upon their own efforts.


    Some examples of what to say/ask instead of “good job”:

    1. “You did it”: Example: Your child rode their bike on two wheels for the first time, “You did it!” That’s it, not much more to say; your smile, their smile, it all connects.
    2. “What do you like best about your work?”: Let them be their own critic. Learn to flex that muscle, taking time to reflect. Example: Your child finished a 30 piece puzzle, all on their own, “What did you like the best about this puzzle? Child: “I like the lion next to the monkey, and I liked putting in the last piece”.
    3. “What was the most fun part?”: Asking questions helps them to understand that they are the ones who should be judging their work. Not you, the adult. It is important that their work be “self-driven” not “adult-driven”. Example: “I see you made a necklace for your sister Jamie, what was the most fun part?” Child: “She loves orange, I put 22 orange beads on the necklace”.
    4. “Yes, but do you like it?”: Many times, children who have become used to hearing “Good Job” will come expecting your praise. Example: Child: “Ms. Colleen, do you like my dress?” Ms. Colleen: “Yes, but more importantly, do you like it? Did you pick it out to wear today? I can see that your headband goes with the dress.”
    5. “I can see you worked for a long time on that”: Focusing on the process, rather than the finished product emphasizes to the child that their creative process, concentration and their willingness to try new things are what matters, not how their final work looks. Let them know that you noticed how long it took and how hard they worked. Example: “You were busy for a full hour building that Lego ship, I can see you worked for a long time on that.”
    6. “Tell me more”: Often, children bring us art work, usually they just want to share it with us and talk about it. As children get older, you can ask more specific questions about what they have created. Show them that you are genuinely interested in what they have done. Example: “You used different colors of blue, in the sky, tell me more about that.”
    7. Notice and acknowledge: Commenting on the positive results they have created helps to strengthen the experience of making good choices. Saying something more meaningful than “good job”, talking about the exact behaviors you have asked of your child. Example: “I see that you put all your laundry in the basket.”
    8. A simple “thank you”: Young children love to be a part of the community, whether it is the home or the classroom. They like to feel they are helping. Rather than “good job’ing” them. Say “thank you for helping fold the laundry”. Example: “That was very helpful, thank you.”

    These are only a handful of examples of a much more meaningful way to show your appreciation for your child’s efforts than a blanket “good job.”

    There are so many meaningful, sincere ways to show our children that we appreciate what they do. The hardest part of branching out beyond “good job” is breaking the habit.

    We are simply used to telling children “good job” for every little thing they do. While this is certainly meant to be kind and supportive, it can, in reality, take away from their sense of accomplishment and over time, can encourage them to seek out adult approval, rather than feeling satisfied with themselves.

    Give it a try, maybe make a game of it for yourself. I call this game “Count out the paperclips”.

    Pick a day, count how many times you say “good job”. Once you determine how many times you have said the phrase, count out as many paperclips or small objects you can hold in your pocket. Each time you say “good job” take one paper clip/object out of one pocket and place it in another pocket. At the end of the day, see how many paperclips/objects you have left. Decrease the amount of paperclips as time goes by. This is just a fun way to measure and laugh at yourself as you break this habit.

    Now, start thinking about more specific ways to interact with your children. Let it be less adult-driven, and more about the intrinsic reward the child gets when he/she has an accomplishment, large or small.

    With practice, you will form new habits and ways of encouraging children. It will feel more and more natural each time you try.

    – Colleen


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    5 Reasons to Stop Saying, “Good Job”