What’s Wrong with “Catch Them Being Good”?

“Catch ‘em being good.” We heard this phrase frequently during the phase of child development practice that focused on promoting “self-esteem.” Parents and teachers were directed to not only set clear boundaries for children and to hold them accountable for crossing those boundaries, but we were also to acknowledge their positive behaviors as they occurred. In fact, some amounts were suggested, such as five positives to every negative. We’re generally in support of noticing and acknowledging the positive behaviors of others (and not just children). Where we disagree is on HOW that acknowledging is presented. Too often, positive messages are simplified into statements of praise. Praise statements too often skip over stating what the value of the positive behavior is and implies that the value is simply in pleasing someone. Statements of praise (“I like how you did this..” “Thank you for doing this…” ” What a great boy/girl you are…”) may please the recipient but it is at a price. The price is not allowing the child to experience the value of their behavior internally. Instead, they only externally receive the verbal pat on the head because they have pleased someone else.

When your child or student does something well, what would you prefer to have them think:

My teacher/parent thinks I did a good job at that.


I did a good job at that!

Please continue to “catch ‘em being good” but when you do so, take the extra time to tell them what was “good” about it. Tell them how helpful it was that they cleaned their rooms, how welcoming it was to include others into their games, how wise they are becoming because they were working on their homework. Praise is so easy to give in its simplest form. Greater value can occur when praise is paired with acknowledgements that are more detailed.


April 1, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.