Rethinking “Good Job”: Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation in Young Minds

In the realm of parenting and education, the phrase “Good job!” has become a well-worn staple. It’s intended as praise, a way to encourage and acknowledge a child’s efforts. However, recent research suggests that this seemingly innocuous phrase may not always yield the positive outcomes we hope for. In this blog post, we’ll delve into why it might not be the best approach and explore alternative methods to foster intrinsic motivation and a love for learning in young children.

1. Empty Praise and its Pitfalls:

“Good job!” has its limitations. When children are praised indiscriminately, without specificity or context, it can become a hollow commendation. This generic praise lacks depth, failing to provide valuable feedback or insight into what the child did well.

2. External Validation vs. Intrinsic Motivation:

Excessive use of “Good job!” can inadvertently shift a child’s focus towards seeking external validation. Instead of cultivating a genuine love for the task at hand, children may start performing to gain approval, potentially leading to a loss of intrinsic motivation.

3. Diminishing Individuality and Autonomy:

Overuse of praise may inadvertently suppress a child’s sense of autonomy. When children constantly seek external approval, they may be less inclined to explore their interests independently, potentially stifling their creativity and personal growth. 

Here are some Alternative Approaches to Encouragement:

1. Give Specific Feedback:

Rather than a blanket “Good job!”, offer specific feedback. Highlight what the child did well, focusing on their effort, creativity, or problem-solving skills. In younger children like toddlers,  it might look like, “I see you used a lot of blue” and in older pre-school children it might look like, “that house looks very realistic, I noticed that you added windows and a chimney.” When children put their shoes on instead of “Good job” you can say, “You put your own shoes on! That is really helpful in getting us out the door faster.”

2. Ask Open-Ended Questions:

Engage children in a conversation about their work. Ask open-ended questions that prompt them to reflect on their efforts, fostering a deeper understanding and sense of accomplishment. 

3. Acknowledging the Process:

Emphasize the process rather than just the end result. Recognize the steps and strategies the child employed to achieve their goal, reinforcing the value of persistence and effort.

4. Celebrate Effort, Not Just Achievement:

Shift the emphasis from the final outcome to the effort invested. Acknowledge the journey, recognizing the challenges and growth that occurred along the way. “You worked really hard getting your shoes on. I saw you start to get frustrated but you stuck with it and you did it!!” 


While praise has its place in parenting and education, an overreliance on the phrase “Good job!” may inadvertently hinder a child’s intrinsic motivation and autonomy. By offering specific feedback, engaging in meaningful conversations, and celebrating the process, we can foster a genuine love for learning and creativity in young minds. Let’s empower our children to find joy and satisfaction in their own accomplishments, independent of external validation.

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Each day at Annie's Alphabet, we create, move, sing, discuss, observe, and read. We do all of this through play.
We are constantly working on the recognition and sounds of letters and numbers through games, chants, flannel stories, sensory materials, puzzles, and songs that may or may not be related to the theme in the room. We also work on colors, shapes, sizes, large motor skills (like hopping, climbing, playing ball, etc) fine motor skills (drawing, stringing beads, tearing, cutting. gluing) math, science, language, reading, writing, art, social skills, and most of all fun!

We go outside twice a day, for about an hour or more each time. Even when it is lightly raining- children LOVE puddles! When it is pouring down rain or overly windy, we either stay on the porch or find ways inside to exercise our bodies. 

We play hard! Make sure to dress your child in daycare wear- aka- things that can get paint on them! 

A day at Annie's 

Fun Facts

  • Childcare provider for 35+ years
  • Lover of the Outdoors
  • Climbed Mt. Olympus in Greece -Zues Was cheering
  • Grew up on mercer island 
  • Mother of 3 boys--Nana of 2 Grandkids
  • Graduated with a BA in Early childhood and family studies from the University of washington 

Meet Annie!

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