22 October 2008

"Good Girl" aka a rant on reflexive praise

Yup and this is my first rant in ages, so I'm not going to be apologetic about it (much). Having visitors here right now is really tough. A couple of days fine, but a week is wearing long with folks who really need more time and attention than I can currently give.

But one thing beyond all others is driving me crazy. My children keep being *petted*! It's easier to explain to someone that I don't want them to yell at or punish my kids, but I don't think my ban on the word "good" is sinking in. So this morning, I practically threw my copy of Unconditional Parenting at her, and tried to explain. Praise is not just a filler, not just a way of saying, "wow, you exist!" Although right now we seem to be drowning in it with just that intention.

Firstly, my children do not need patting on the head. They need respectfully thanking, they need to be noticed, they need to see and feel that they are loved for who they are. They do not need "reinforcing"! What exactly is added, if a child does something because it pleased them to do it, and we gush and enthuse? They know it was worthwhile, because they have some discernment, and because they usually did it in the first place knowing that it pleased them or was helpful for someone else.

Secondly, patting them on the head is counter-productive. If we WERE doing it hoping that it would make them want to please us more, or do the same again, it DOESN'T WORK. Or not like that, anyway. Their motivation goes down the more rewards we give.

And lastly, "good" is this HUGE, loaded, guilt-inducing, emotional word. Good is a term of moral judgement. Even applied to a moral situation I would argue that calling someone "good" is unhelpful. And the sneakiest little pedantic part of me wants to quote, "No-one is Good except God alone." [Mark 10:18]

Is finding her sister's shoe MORALLY good? It would seem an absurd question in another context. If it isn't morally good, what do we mean calling them "good"? Convenient? Easy to live with? Is that the kind of children we want to raise, with the long term moral implications of an inability to make moral judgement for themselves when they are grown?

Praise your kids, praise them for free, for who they are. Thank them for things that help you. Tell them you noticed. But why "good girl" them half to death?


  1. Frustrating isn't it.
    I try to explain to people that it's not that I don't praise - rather I praise meaningfully and with appreciation - if appropriate - really bugs me this "good boy/girl" for every little thing - its sooooo meaningless.

    Ok I'll stop now otherwise I'll get in rant mode!

  2. I have had that rant too, normally after certain family members have been to stay! I really feel like saying that my son is not a dog as all the "Good boy" stuff just makes me think of someone training a puppy!

  3. Hi Sarah - just wanted to say, how frustrating! I know how you feel however because I'm often asking Dave not to do the "good boy" routine all the time and have been known to say "He's not a dog!" fairly often. *sigh*

  4. Hiya sweetie, sometimes it's like talking to a brick wall isn't it? Anyway, my guest sneered at the book ("I don't have time to READ!") but does amusingly keep "good girl"ing my children today and THEN says "oops, I'm not supposed to say that"!

    Pleased to report there is no CIO going on around here this time though. Apparently "it wasn't working". :S :(

  5. "Good girl/boy" is one of my rants too ......I hate it so much when (usually) relatives do that!!


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