Pay attention and you’ll hear it everywhere parents and children gather:

“You went down the slide, good job!”

“Share your toy with your friend. Good job!”

One night this week when my husband “good jobbed” our five-year-old for peeing, I couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t know what else to say,” he responded in exasperation.

There are far worse things you can say to your child than “good job.” It might seem like nitpicking to even address this phrase. However, I’d encourage you to consider what purpose it actually serves.

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A seemingly harmless “good job” places a judgment on what our children do. If we choose to parent in this way, how do we decide when they are actually doing a good job and when a behavior doesn’t warrant our praise? For some of us, “good job” can become a little compulsive, but children don’t actually need our constant encouragement. In fact, offering praise just shifts a child’s focus from the enjoyment of an activity to our judgment of its worth. I love how Alfie Kohn explains this predicament, “Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.”

As if that weren’t reason enough to rethink the phrase, after being repeated ad nauseam in a variety of situations, the words basically become meaningless. “Good job” is completely generic and is usually uttered pretty mindlessly. Often it’s actually used in a way that’s dismissive when our children are attempting to connect with us. It’s for these reasons that it also completely shuts down the conversation.

​Here’s an example:

“Mommy, look at the drawing I made!”

“Wow, good job!”

That’s pretty much the end. What if instead we tried something different:

“Mommy, look at the drawing I made!”

“I could tell you were really working hard on that horse, what made you decide to draw it?”

“Well, last night I had a dream about a purple horse, and I wanted to see what it would look like on paper.”

“How fun! I’d love to hear more about your dream.”

The child might then proceed to describe what I can only imagine is an awesome dream.

There will be moments, of course, when we don’t have time to have a lengthy conversation about purple dream horses, and in that instance the conversation might go like this:

“Mommy, look at the drawing I made!”

“I’m making dinner right now, but I’m interested to take a look when I’m done.”

The important part here is to actually follow through and look when you said you would.

Sometimes there doesn’t even need to be a conversation, but we can choose statements that don’t put a value on our child’s quality of work.

Here’s a list of phrases to try out the next time you’re tempted to “good job” your child:

1 | ​You did it!

2 | You worked hard at that, how does it feel?

3 | I appreciate how careful you were.

4 | I noticed you used a lot of blue in that picture, can you tell me about that?

5 | How did you feel when you finished that?

6 | Thanks for working with me, we make a good team.

7 | Thanks for listening and responding the first time I asked.

8 | I saw that!

9 | You really focused on your project.

10 | I noticed how kind you were to your friend.

11 | You picked that up the first time I asked!

12 | That was very thoughtful.

13 | You look like you’re having fun!

14 | That took a lot of perseverance.

15 | I can tell how important that was to you.

16 | That was tough, but you stuck with it.

17 | Thank you.

18 | I can tell you are thinking that through.

19 | I love watching you do things you enjoy.

20 | I’m interested to know about this.

21 | You climbed all the way to the top by yourself!

22 | Or say nothing at all. Sometimes we talk just to fill space when no words are even needed.

This was originally published on Empathetic Parenting.com.