Do you find yourself saying “good girl / boy” a lot? Read on to find out why it might not be doing you or your child any favours…
Let’s start with why we say it…for many of us, it’s just habit from our own childhoods! If we think about it more consciously, it’s probably because we think it’s providing encouragement when they are struggling with something, and that it’s a way of supporting good behaviour by reinforcing when a child has done something right. Here’s why this might not be as straightforward as we think it is…
Saying “good” doesn’t actually give your child any real or useful information about what they’ve done – it just tells them they’ve made you happy and you approve them. This doesn’t lead to long-term self-esteem, self-awareness, or having the inner motivation to do the right thing.
We tend to massively over-use it. This means we use it when actually what we mean to say is “I love you”, or “Wow, you worked hard at that”, or “Thank you for helping me, I really appreciate it.” All of these statements are so much more useful to a child’s self-worth and they provide constructive feedback about what they’re doing.
It is more likely to lead to a fixed mindset than a growth mindset. When we have a growth mindset we believe if we work at something we can get better at it. With a fixed mindset we think we are just good or bad at something. Good girl / boy statements increase this feeling of a fixed mindset because they don’t include specific feedback, and they focus on approval not self-reflection.
When we say “good girl / boy” we often miss a valuable opportunity to validate children’s feelings and let them express their emotions. In fact, we often use it as a way of stopping children from crying by telling them they are good for being “brave” or not making a fuss.
Next time they do something well, try to give constructive feedback – “I’ve noticed you’ve spent a really long time working out how to build that tower!” This gives feedback to the child that they were persevering. They don’t need to be told they were “good” at the same time – this actually takes away from their achievements and focused attention back on our approval of them.
What about when they do something kind? Studies show that praising can actually make children less likely to repeat the kind actioned when they are praised for it! If the kind action is to you, a simple “thank you” is exactly what we would offer an adult. If the action is towards another child, try saying nothing at all and letting your child just notice how it feels to have helped another person.
And finally, what about those emotions? We should never approve of a child for managing to not cry. We need to allow them to express how they feel and learn that this is not only okay, it’s essential. We can allow them to cry, offer support, love and validation, and prove to them that tough emotions can be survived.