You Did It!
Saying “good job” gives the child validation from an external source, which might keep them searching for that validation from others. When we say “you did it!” the sense of pride and validation comes from within.
A lot of words for parenting are born in the birthing room. When I was pushing out my son, I heard myself saying, “I can’t do it!” Then I heard my midwife’s voice saying, “you ARE doing it!” Then a moment later I heard my husband say “you did it!” Those words lifted me up. Since then, I have said, “you did it!” to so many women. I bear witness to their experience. I acknowledge and encourage their effort and support their autonomy.
The same words work so well with babies and children. The huge effort that it takes to roll over or to climb a ladder is often met with, “good job!” What does this actually mean? Were they doing a bad job before? Is crawling a job? “Good job” is non-specific praise that represents a value judgement. Could those words make the child look to others for external validation rather than foster internally driven confidence? So, we started to say, “you did it!” acknowledging the action without passing judgement. If you include a description of the task, “you did it all by yourself” or “you pulled yourself up and over that big rock!” you acknowledge and describe the effort, while encouraging independence and child led play.
This use of language resulted in one of our favourite recent moments. James at age 2 was climbing on a rope tower, exclaiming over and over, “I’m doing it myself!” Yes, you are climbing. You did it!