Dear Tulum,

I catch my daughter looking to me for my approval and I can’t seem to stop the meaningless “Good job!” from flying out of my mouth. How do I acknowledge her efforts without adding my stamp of approval.

— Any Suggestions?

Dear Suggestions,

What a wonderfully sophisticated question! Thank you, this is a treat for me. Let me begin with a few words to readers who are wondering what the problem is with “Good job.” Simply, children hear it so often these days that it has become meaningless lip service. It doesn’t acknowledge anything specific about what they have done and that is exactly what they need: specifics. Specific details tell them you are paying close enough attention to really notice their efforts AND care enough about them to take the time to address what you see in a way that nurtures. Let’s establish a healthy foundation:

1. Why the fuss? Most baby boomer parents I have met are either parenting their children in a way that mimics the techniques they experienced or are in direct opposition to those techniques. Translation: Your parents did a great job of helping you feel self confident and you want to do the same. OR, you didn’t get enough praise, so now you are over praising.

2. So what? You thought there can’t be too much praise. Actually there can be. Praise addresses the doer, “You are a good girl!” instead of the effort, “Wow, you are working hard to get your shoe on!” Praise creates people pleasing kids. Praise tells us we need something outside ourselves to feel/be OK. Looking for something outside ourselves to feel OK can lead to addictive behavior. We have addiction in teens and adults in staggering numbers in this country. WE NEED to stop the cycle.

3. How? Encourage instead of praise. You can never encourage too much. The trick is to address your child’s efforts whether successful or not.

Make observations: “I see you are really working hard at building a tower.”

Ask questions: “Can you tell me more about this?”

Parrot what your child says to you: “You tied your shoes!”

If your child asks you if you like her art, new shoes, etc. Answer, “Tell me how you feel about_____.”

The key is to stop and notice exactly what your child is doing and direct your comments to the specifics, naming them.

Remember that your child is looking for significance and belonging, not lip service!

AND LASTLY! Be sure to take a good hard look at your own people pleasing ways and clean them up so you won’t model that behavior for your children.