Gratitude in Place of Praise
By Erin R. Trondson
I recently read an article in Tomorrow’s Child titled “How ‘Good Job’ Rears ‘Bad Job’” written by Dr.
Paul Epstein. His premise, and not one we are unfamiliar with in Montessori, is that we should try to
avoid praising children. Praise externally motivates behavior, and our goal in Montessori environments is for children to be intrinsically motivated to do their work, be kind to people, take care of the environment, research, find interest in life, and take care of themselves.
Research finds that intrinsically motivated people find pleasure from the task and from their work in a
deep and profound way, and may even be more satisfied and perhaps perform deeper and richer work than externally motivated people. Of course, most people are not strictly one or the other, but rather use a blend of what motivates them, alternating between internal motivation and working for fear of a consequence or the desire of a reward.
For parents, praise is the most common form of reward, and I challenge us all to try to eliminate the
phrase “good job” from our vocabulary—it is not an easy challenge!
So what to do instead? Here are some alternatives to our knee-jerk response of “good job”.
● Observation. Instead of “That’s beautiful” or “Good job”, try “I see you mixed red and blue
together up there in the corner—and look! It made purple!”
● Ask the Child a Question. “What is your favorite part of the painting?” or “What was your
favorite part of making this painting?” or simply “Tell me what is going on in your picture.”
● Gratitude. “When I look at your picture, I feel so happy because I enjoy your creativity.”
I hope these tools feel like a small gift to you during this holiday season.