More Than “Good-job”

Verbal Validation for Kids is More Than “Good-Job”

By: Sasha Pipke

Dopamine, also commonly referred to as the “feel-good” hormone is associated with motivation and reward-driven learning. Dopamine allows for a positive sensation released in the brain that motivates future actions, allowing for a similar release of the hormone (Bogacz, 2020).  Children continuously use dopamine to further build connections and reinforce habits within their brains. Parents, teachers, aides, and therapists consistently reward children with positive words of affirmation to reinforce positive behaviour in their developing minds. This motivation is known as extrinsic motivation, where the child receives external validation and praise, as opposed to intrinsic motivation (which involves of self-encouragement). The choice of words used by adults plays a critical role in the child’s motivation. We often resort to saying “good job” to further validate the actions of others, yet this phrase is an overgeneralized blanket term, used regardless of the task at hand. Although this seems like the perfect phrase to continue to motivate the child to perform a task, it lacks meaning and does not specifically recognize accomplishments. We must ask ourselves, therefore, how can we change our vocabulary to motivate children in a meaningful way?

As we know, “good job” is ambiguous and vague, so to create a more profound and meaningful outcome it can be helpful to describe what you see or hear. When children understand what they are receiving praise for, motivation to complete the task again or similar tasks with the same effort increases (Schwarz,2018). It’s important to still use vocabulary that the child understands and can easily understand in a positive context. Some examples are:

  1. “Wow, I love how you rounded your lips to make your quiet (/sh/) sound!”
  2. “You washed your hands all by yourself, nice work!”
  3. “Thank you for using your ears and turning off the TV when I asked!”


Additionally, it is important to provide children with the success of their actions. This allows you to provide extrinsic motivation in a way that will allow your child to also feel intrinsic motivation. This can be done with personalized ‘you’ statements that place ownership on the child for their own actions. Some examples are:

  1. “You were very kind sharing your game with your brother, it made him very happy.”
  2. “I’m very proud of you for tying your shoes all by yourself!”
  3. “You worked so hard today sounding out your words, you are very smart!”

Lastly, it is important to highlight the effort, especially in situations where the end goal was not reached. When you emphasize the effort, it allows for a transition of mindset within the child; rather than thinking of something as a failure, it becomes motivation to continue to try and succeed later. Goals do not happen overnight, and children should not expect that everything they do will be accomplished at the same rate.

Saying “good job” has become hardwired to address success in children, however, it does not carry substantial meaning. Changing our vocabulary to better highlight children’s effort and success is a small change that can make the word of difference regarding self-praise and motivation. This change in vocabulary will not happen immediately. Try to first notice in a week how many times you say “good job” then try to replace a few “good jobs” with a specific validating phrase and continue to progress from there. You’ve got this!



Bogacz, R.(2020). Dopamine role in learning and action inference.

Corinne. (2019). Why You Should Stop Saying Good Job and What to Say Instead. The Pragmatic Parent.

Schwarz, N. (2018). 50 Ways to Say “Good Job” (Without Saying “Good Job”). Imperfect Families.,reduce%20their%20sense%20of%20achievement.

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The Dance of Service

By Monica Morela, behavioral aide at Connecting Dots

Many scholars within the field of disability studies illustrate the relationship between service providers and families by using different analogies. Yuen (2003) describes how having a child with a disability can be like embarking on a journey to space. Such a quest can be exciting at times, lonely, or scary; and asking for help along the way is always necessary. Alternatively, parents describe having a child with a disability as feeling like a spider sitting on a web (Yuen, 2003). Where weak strands are strengthened by connection, and where a ‘web’ of professionals are there to help. I think that Fialka (2001) beautifully illustrates the professional-family relationship by comparing this connection to a dance. In service provider relationships and in a dance, there is an element of forced intimacy. The nature of our circumstances brings us nose-to-nose with strangers in ways that can be awkward. Being aware of this awkwardness can help behavioral aides and therapists to think about how we can reduce the number of times we step on toes!

Another dimension of Fialka’s (2001) illustration that I found very poignant was the idea of who leads the dance of services. Many practitioners will refer to parents as the experts on their children. It might be more accurate to refer to parents as contributors. In a dance, each individual’s contribution can evolve and build on each other as we offer different perspectives about a child. Finally, in a dance, each partner listens to music that guides the movements of their dance. In the dance of services, ‘music’ can be an illustration of priorities. Priorities for parents and service providers can sometimes differ. This difference can lead to misunderstandings regarding the role and goal of services. When practitioners are willing to put on parents ‘headphones’ they will hear the experiences of parents and will be more effective in strengthening the parent-professional relationship.



Fialka, J. (2001). The dance of partnership. Young Exceptional Children4(2), 21–27.

Yuan, S. (2003). Seeing with new eyes: Metaphors of family experience. Mental Retardation, 41(3), 207-211. doi:10.1352/0047-6765(2003);2

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The Importance of Small Talk

By Monica Morela, behavioral aide with Connecting Dots

Lynne-McHale and Deatrick (2000) describe trust as being, “the cornerstone of helping relationships” (p. 211). This statement is also corroborated in Reeder and Morris’s (2018) qualitative study regarding the importance of trust in therapeutic relationships. They found that in some cases a positive therapeutic relationship was more strongly correlated with positive treatment outcomes than the choice of what treatments to use (Reeder & Morris, 2018). Reeder and Morris (2018) also found that although professionals are aware of the importance of trusting relationships, they were not always clear on how to achieve a positive trusting relationship with families. So how do we as practitioners and behavioural aides authentically gain the trust of the families we work with? The answer might be more attainable than we think! Francis et al. (2016) examined parent perceptions of best practices for building trust in professional relationships. They found that one of the most important skills for building trusting family-professional partnerships was communication (Francis et al., 2016). More specifically, engaging frequently with clients in casual and positive conversations has been described by parents as one of the best ways to build trust (Francis et al., 2016). This means that our beginning of session chats about the weather and our weekends might be more important than we think! Edwards et al. (2018) provide more detail regarding key communication skills that can help us as service providers build positive working relationships. Taking the time to listen, using proper eye contact, remaining attentive, and being clear are all communication skills that can aid us in building a positive therapeutic relationship.

I think that we can treat building rapport and trust as a skill. Taking an intentional, conscious, and conscientious approach to providing care will be beneficial for us as practitioners but also for the families we work with. The next time you are working with your clients maybe take some time before the session to chat with parents about their day. Taking this time to build a positive relationship might go farther than you think!



Edwards, M., Parmenter, T., O’Brien, P., & Brown, R. (2018). FAMILY QUALITY OF LIFE AND THE BUILDING OF SOCIAL CONNECTIONS: PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR PRACTICE AND POLICY. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies9(4), 88–106.

Francis, G. L., Blue-Banning, M., Haines, S. J., Turnbull, A. P., & Gross, J. M. (2016). Building “Our School”: Parental Perspectives for Building Trusting Family–Professional Partnerships. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth60(4), 329–336.

Lynn-McHale, D. J., & Deatrick, J. A. (2000). Trust Between Family and Health Care Provider. Journal of Family Nursing6(3), 210–230.

Reeder, J., & Morris, J. (2018). The importance of the therapeutic relationship when providing information to parents of children with long-term disabilities: The views and experiences of UK paediatric therapists. Journal of Child Health Care22(3), 371–381.

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Working with Diverse Families

By: Simran Saroya

Hi everyone!

I wanted to shine some light on a topic I am very passionate about and that is culturally diverse families and what opportunities look like for them. As we work with diverse families and diverse circumstances, we must acknowledge the culture in the homes vs. the culture we may be accustomed to. Western culture is what we base most of our observations and inferences on. What we must understand is that nonverbal and verbal communication looks different across all cultures. For example, eye contact may be an indicator to us that a child is paying attention although in other cultures it may be a sign of respect that they are not meeting eye to eye. It is very important for families, aides and therapists to talk about cultural norms and what that may look like in their household. Another example may be head-nodding for “yes” or “no” answers. In a western worldview, horizontal head-nodding means no, and vertical head-nodding means yes. In other cultures such as Bulgarian, this is completely the opposite. Although most children are accustomed to the western system, it is important to recognize that some may not be and this conversation is important. Lastly, I wanted to share an example of sharing feelings across cultures. As therapists and aides we encourage children to share feelings and express emotions openly while some cultures such as eastern cultures may not encourage speaking about feelings openly.

The biggest takeaway from this short blog post is that cultural norms are very important to understand especially when working with children from many different family backgrounds and dynamics. We definitely understand that all systems in a child’s life are connected and can impact them, but culture is one system that has a huge impact. By better understanding the roles in the home, the child’s needs, the child’s expectations in the house and the parents expectations, we are able to help the children much better.


I found some resources that can help us understand different cultures a bit better when working with children and their nonverbal vs. verbal responses. I will link them down below.

This one talks about eye contact and the differences across all cultures :

This one talks about head nodding and the differences across cultures around the world :

This one talks about emotions:

Prezi on Emotions:

Nonverbal communication examples:

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