Specific Praise: Why “Wonderful” and “Good Job” Doesn’t Teach

Specific Praise: Why “Wonderful” and “Good Job” Doesn’t Teach

As a parent, you likely quickly learned that ignoring a behavior or redirecting your young child often helps to reduce undesirable behavior. Conversely, praising a behavior helps children to learn to repeat it. Your child wants to please you and follow your lead. However, using “wonderful”, “great”, “nice”, “good”, “excellent” over and over doesn’t let the child know exactly what you liked.

Your child picks up a toy and throws it into a pillow on the couch. You tell him or her to put it in the toy box. You leave the area and return a few minutes later to find the child has put away the toy and is now playing with a train on the floor. “Good job,” you say to praise the child for putting away the toy. However, it is a few minutes later and the child might think you mean to congratulate his use of the train. Use specific language: “You did a nice job by putting away the toy like I asked.” Now the child understands the reinforcement was for doing what was asked and will be more likely to follow the direction in the future.

Listen to yourself and see how you can alter your “atta boy” to let the child know exactly what you like. Your child will know how to please you.


Developed by Suzanne Gellens for the Southern Early Childhood Association

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