Why My Daughter Will Never Do a Good Job

This past weekend our daughter had her very first recital. Our family was excited to see her perform her gymnastics skills, even her great-grandparents came out to see her one minute routine. I made sure the camera had a full battery to make sure we wouldn’t miss capturing this big moment. The recital was during M’s nap time so I was really hoping that she’d make it through. While sitting and waiting her turn, she was, well, this….


I thought, “Oh great, we’ve invited all our family out and now she’s not going to go on the stage when it’s her turn.” She was grumpy, she was hot, she was tired, and I was sure I’d be faced with a tantrum at any moment. “I want to go……” she cried. I knew it, she wants to go home! “I want to go there,” and she pointed to the stage. Relief filled me as I realized she was only being an impatient three year old who wanted her turn. Her group was fourth to perform and she went up without hesitation, found her spot, displayed all her skills and didn’t want to leave the stage! We have video evidence of a coach having to chase after her to get her off the stage. (We also have video evidence of her budging in line and cutting off five other children. Sorry to the other kids and their parents for my three-year-old who didn’t understand the concept of a line.)

After she finished her performance, my words to her were, “You did it! It looked like you had so much fun. You were such a big girl and went all by yourself! What was your favourite part?”
“The trampoline!” (It’s always the trampoline.)
She followed up by telling me that she had fun. As I brought the superstar off the stage and headed to greet her fans, she was greeted with, “Good job!” “Good job!!” “Good job!!!” High fives and hugs all around. It was her moment to be celebrated. She was proud of herself. I’m so happy that she got to experience her success, but to me, my daughter will never do a good job.

In my first ECE class, our instructor said, “If I hear you say ‘good job’ to a child on your practicum, I will fail you.” We all knew she was kidding. I knew she was challenging us to praise children in different ways, and this is something that I’ve brought into my parenting. I don’t want to say I’ve never, but rarely will I say to M, “good job.” What does good job really mean? What am I really trying to communicate to my daughter?

“Good job” after her gymnastics performance could mean:
– You went up there and did it.
– Your skills were fantastic.
– You didn’t fall or trip.
– I loved watching you.
– That looked fun.
– You waited your turn (nope, not my child).

I hear good job A LOT! Which is probably why I try not to use it.
– Good job (for eating).
– Good job (for painting).
– Good job (for putting on your shoes).
– Good job (for putting a puzzle together).

So it leaves me asking this, if a child doesn’t eat because they’re not hungry, or doesn’t like the food, do we then say, “Bad job?”  “Bad job, you didn’t finish your dinner.” “Bad job, you didn’t finish that puzzle.”  “Bad job, there’s a line on the paper.” Sounds bizarre doesn’t it? But I’ve heard “good job” for those very things. I don’t want my daughter coming to me seeking approval. Feeling proud of herself shouldn’t be dependent upon others, and that’s why I try to avoid telling her “good job.” I could see it on her face when she left that gymnastics floor, she didn’t need my approval or praise, she KNEW she did a good job. That kid was beaming!

It’s a struggle every day because she does do many “good job” worthy things. Recently, she’s been doing the whole bathroom routine on her own, getting on the toilet, wiping, and flushing. That’s a huge deal to us, so I let her know it’s a huge deal! “You did it by yourself! You moved the stool, you climbed on the toilet, you went pee, you wiped and you put your underwear back on. Look how much you did all by yourself!” (Now please wash your hands before you touch me.) It takes a lot more effort not to say “good job.”

My child is not “good job” deprived, she is surrounded by aunts, uncles, and grandparents after all. I know our three-year-old will get told “good job” from family, coaches, and teachers. More important than praise, which I think children need, I want my daughter to learn about what a good job means to her, and succeeding within standards she has set for herself. As she challenges herself to meet those standards, I will continue to challenge myself to be creative in replacing “good job.” Now, don’t even get me started on “good girl.”

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