20 Affirmations Besides “Good Job!” to Promote Positive Self-Esteem for Preschoolers

One of the most important skills we can foster in young children is the development of positive self-esteem. A sure way to do this is by showing children how to recognize the good feelings that come from within when they accomplish or create something, or how to rely on intrinsic (versus extrinsic) motivation. Intrinsic motivation inevitably leads to healthy self-esteeem.

Psychologists have researched for decades about the benefits of intrinsic motivation. According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan:

“Intrinsic motivation is considered better than extrinsic motivation because people who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to be​​:

  • Successful – They achieve better results.
  • Committed – They have a stronger sense of personal commitment.
  • Persistent – They perform more persistently and are less likely to quit when facing difficulties.
  • Creative – They are more creative and more likely to come up with novel ideas and solutions. Intrinsic motivation is an important component of creativity.”

Being intrinsically motivated also has long-term benefits such as higher self-determination, higher self-confidence, and skills of grit and “cognitive hardiness” — all skills we want to foster in the young children we care for, right? 

So how do we help children become intrinsically motivated with our responses? While it’s habitual for us as adults to respond to desired behaviors or new skills with unrelated praise (Good Job!) or other tangible reinforcements (stickers, candy, toys), we can do better.

It’s exciting to see children do something new, especially when we are invested in their development, so we automatically say the first thing that comes to mind, “GOOD JOB!” When they behave in a way that we want them to repeat in the future, we praise them with, “ GOOD JOB!”

While praise is typically well-received by children and works in certain situations (like potty training), it fosters a reliance upon extrinsic motivation. We can have a greater impact on children’s self-esteem if we work to respond with more meaningful words. Words that show children that we see them. We hear them. We are interested in what they are saying to us. Words that teach them to think about how they feel when they accomplish something.

List of Positive Affirmations

Rather than automatically saying “GOOD JOB,” try one of these responses instead. By adjusting your responses, you will help the children in your home or classroom to build those foundations of positive self-esteem right from the start. 

  1. You did it! (Or repeat back to them what they did, “You DID put your dish in the sink!”)
  2. How did that make you feel?
  3. You took a risk!
  4. You should feel proud of yourself, I do.
  5. I love that idea!
  6. You made a plan.
  7. That is interesting, tell me more.
  8. I love your creativity! 
  9. You are learning to do XYZ on your own. 
  10.  You used so much {green} in your picture.
  11.  I like the way you are thinking.
  12.  You showed kindness. 
  13.  That was brave.
  14.  You are an….artist, painter, builder, climber, etc.
  15.  You worked really hard on that.
  16.  I can’t wait to see what you do next.
  17.  You made a good choice.
  18.  You can do hard things.
  19.  Show me what you learned (or what you did).
  20.  You solved your problem. 

Things to Think About

  • When responding to a child who is looking for your acknowledgment, it’s helpful to respond with the qualities of someone who has good self-esteem — words like kind, pride, brave, hard-worker. 
  • Usually, all children need is acknowledgment, not necessarily “praise.” By mirroring what they just said to you “You DID XYZ” they hear your acknowledgment. We all like to be acknowledged, right? 
  • Noticing when children are brave, or complete something that you know was difficult is a time for acknowledgment that the task was HARD, or they took a risk. Commenting on their effort goes a long way, and will encourage them to keep trying hard things in the future = tenacity and grit!
  • Align your response to the accomplishment. For example, if a child says “Look at my painting!”, you want to respond with something like #14, #9, or #10. Inviting them to share more about what they’ve done shows them that you are genuinely interested in their work which builds confidence and… SELF-ESTEEM.
  • Anytime you can encourage a child to keep going (#16, #19) it will deepen their interest in that activity and extend their learning.

Don’t be surprised if “GOOD JOB!” still flies off your tongue now and then. By mindfully adding in these different types of responses, you will gradually start to lose the automatic ones. The children in your care will feel seen, heard, and acknowledged even more than before. Their self-esteem will be nourished and your connections with them will grow deeper. 

Amanda Dixon

Amanda is a homeschooling mama of three, freelance writer and college professor. She has a master's degree in early childhood education and a deep passion for the development that takes place in children from 0-6.

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