Can I say, “Great job!” to my kids?

How does paise impact growth mindset

On the final days of the holiday break while I was finishing my latest Louise Penny mystery and managing my chocolate stupor thanks to my husband’s holiday baking (Whoopie Pies FTW!), my daughter was on a creativity bender! 

One piece of art after another- abstract, sculpture, you name it; she was a prolific mini-Hilma af Klint (cutaway confessional: I have no idea who that is but “MyModernMet” says she’s one of the 14 famous female painters I should know). Anyway…

When she finished, we walked through her newly created gallery exhibit and ooohed and ahhhed all the way, asking questions about her choices and her ideas. 

It had me thinking about the way psychologists have been highlighting the “dangers” of praising too much or making statements such as “great job!” or “you’re so smart!” to our children. 

 While the research supports using praise sparingly and focusing primarily on “growth mindset” by encouraging actions such as sticking with something, practically speaking, focusing on only these types of responses likely comes at a different cost- decreased presence, increased uncertainty, and potential frustration for our child.

I’ve had many parents bewildered when their bright-eyed, expectant child approaches and says “do you like my drawing?” They aren’t sure the “RIGHT” thing to say is. 

Imagine this conversation between a parent and child:

Child: “Mom, do you like my painting?”

Mom: “Wow! You’ve been working so hard on that!”

Child: “Thanks! do you like it?” 

Mom: “I noticed you used different colors than you usually do. How fun!”

Child: “But do you like it?”

Mom: “do YOU like it?”

Child: “Yes, do you?”

Mom: ……

Imagine the child’s frustration! Of course any of these could be lovely responses but taken to the extreme they are no longer helpful. 

When a parent sacrifices mindful presence with their child in order to “say the right thing” or struggles with what to say as they mentally filter through all of the Instagram “Instead of this… Say this…” posts they’ve read, they end up missing opportunities for connection, the impact of which, over time, may be much greater than the impact of saying, “great job!”. 

Here’s the takeaway: Add encouragement to your repertoire of parenting strategies. Encourage a growth mindset and self-validation. Just remember that every choice you make is either a step toward or a step away from connection. Follow your heart more than your head. As much as possible, throw out the scripts and just BE in the moment with your child. 

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