I read an article about a decade ago when I worked with children full-time. The article was titled, “Five Reasons to Stop Saying, ‘Good Job!'” Something about the article never quite set right with me. The arguments seemed sound enough, but the idea of trying not to affirm children after they did something praiseworthy seemed ludicrous to me.
The article has recently made a comeback and it’s come to my attention once again. What I couldn’t quite verbalize a decade ago, I will now attempt to put into words. Here are the five reasons I will continue to say “Good job,” not only to children, but to anyone around me who does something that merits a bit of praise.
These points do not necessarily line up point for point with the article I’m responding to, but do generally answer each argument presented. Here are my reasons:
1. To encourage good behavior.
Contrary to the original article, people need to be encouraged to do what’s right. We don’t always know intrinsically what is right. There’s a moral standard which exists outside of ourselves which we ought to conform to. Otherwise, why would we need the Bible? It reveals our sin (telling us what is wrong), and shows us how to glorify God (telling us what is right).
Is it manipulation to tell a person “Good job” when they do something good? Or is it rather a recognition of the right thing done, and affirmation of the individual who did the good thing? I’d say the latter.
2. Extrinsic rewards are a natural part of life.
The original article made the assertion that it’s far better to have a conversation with others regarding why a particular action is good rather than simply declaring it good. And I’m all for those kinds of conversations. As people mature, they ought to not only know what they are to be doing, but why they are to be doing those things. But that doesn’t eliminate the necessity to offer praise as well.
You wouldn’t tell an employer to stop paying his employees in the attempt to allow them to be motivated by their own love for the work. Of course not! Extrinsic rewards are a part of life. Granted, they shouldn’t be one’s primary reason for doing things, but it’s simply unrealistic to remove them altogether.
3. People are not the judge of what is good.
God determines what is good. Anytime we say “Good job,” we’re ultimately appealing to a higher authority. Words such as “good” and “bad” have no meaning unless there is a universal standard of good. Otherwise, all we have are personal preferences.
If that is the reality, that there is no such thing as good and bad, or right and wrong, then I would agree that we should stop saying “Good job,” because it would be manipulation to conform to our own idea of what is good. But then we should also stop putting people into prison, because who are we to tell them their actions were wrong? But since an absolute good does exist, then we ought to affirm the practice of good behaviors, and discourage the practice of bad ones.
4. Saying “Good job” is not stealing another’s joy, it’s affirming it and sharing in it.
The author of the previous article was correct in saying that children are constantly looking for our approval. For that matter, many adults are constantly looking for approval as well. Does this mean, then, that we should avoid giving them what they seek? Of course not! Rather, we ought always be looking for opportunities to catch someone doing something good, and affirm them in it.
Furthermore, when I catch someone doing good, I’m able to share in the joy that the person is having, even though I wasn’t the one who did the good thing. This is an amazing privilege! It doesn’t decrease the other’s joy at all, but rather increases his joy because he’s able to share it with another.
5. Praising good actions completes and heightens the joy of the one who did the good thing.
Doing good by oneself is commendable, but often leaves a type of emptiness within a person, longing to share it with others. Since we need extrinsic rewards, verbal affirmation brings a type of closure to the behavior so that we can move on to either repeat the behavior again, or else engage in another good behavior.
In addition to these reasons, I found after re-reading the article that the author simply didn’t make his case. He used phrases such as “this may lead to” such and such, but it really wasn’t based on any kind of research whatsoever. In regards to this point, however, I should note that the author referenced a couple books to further support his point.
I do think we can learn a lot from the original article. It would be wise to reflect on each situation to see if you’re creating a praise junkie by constantly giving verbal affirmation of one’s actions. But when it comes down to it, saying “Good job” is both biblical and helpful to those around us.