Stop Telling Your Child You Are Proud of Them

parenting Apr 09, 2020
Stop Telling Your Child You Are Proud of Them

Having a child is full of emotional moments. You feel an immense sense of achievement and pride in their first words, first steps, and first time riding a bike. As they progress, you feel thrilled about their good grades, excellent performance, and other accomplishments. You say “I’m so proud of you” to them, feeling happy about what they’re able to do and how far they’ve come.

What if we told you that these words can actually impact them negatively? We know, it’s a surprising thing to read. However, we at Dad University wouldn’t just say such a potentially polarizing statement if we don’t have a solid reason. 

So why shouldn’t you say that you’re proud of your child? Let’s dive in.

Common Reasons We Say That We’re Proud of Our Children

Why do parents feel compelled to say that they’re proud of their children? It’s not rocket science. We stay these things because:

  • We want to let them know that we approve of what they’re doing. As parents, we want them to understand how we feel about certain things they do. When our children accomplish something great, we tell them that we’re proud of this accomplishment and approve of their efforts, choices, and progress. 
  • We want to make them feel good. When they achieve something, telling them that we’re proud is bound to make them feel elated about their success, no matter how small or big it is. 
  • Your child will be more inclined to accomplish things. Giving positive reinforcement incentivizes them to keep on pushing and achieving greater things.

As you can see, saying that we’re proud of our children is all about good intentions. However, these intentions can result in a negative outcome. Here are a few reasons why. 

You’re Making the Achievement About Yourself

Let’s say that you’re at a playground with your child, and they finally climb the jungle gym for the first time. You say that you’re proud of what they just did because you want them to feel accomplished.

However, let’s take a look at the situation from your child’s perspective. Your child interprets your praise as you being happy, and they want you to be happy, so they start thinking of ways to accomplish more things to make you proud of them again. In some children, a certain insecurity could take over. Along with the need to please you comes a thought about not being able to do great things again. They might think that you’re going to stop being proud of them if they don’t keep making achievements. 

You wanted your child to feel good. Instead, your wording made it seem that it was you who felt good about their accomplishment. We understand that it’s far from what you intended, but the effect is still there.

An External Source of Validation

Saying that you’re proud of your child provides them with external validation. This isn’t bad when used moderately. However, children can turn to external validation to get a sense of accomplishment. They start depending on your affirmations. When they start living away from you, they might have no other sources of validation. This could lead to loneliness and people-pleasing tendencies. 

It’s no wonder that social media is popular among the youth — it’s where they can get instant gratification. Likes, views, and comments about the things they did give them a sense of validation. However, people shouldn’t depend on others to determine if they did something great. We must teach kids to feel accomplished for themselves. This mentality prevents them from judging themselves against others.

A Subtle Act of Superiority

This result is a subtle thing, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but saying that you’re proud of your child can become an understated means to enforce your superiority. Let’s get back to the jungle gym example. When you say that you’re proud, their achievement may seem like an unexpected thing.

Normally, people won’t say that they’re proud of a person for accomplishing something they’re expected to do. So when you do so, your child may feel a condescending tone from you, even though that’s not what you intended. They might interpret your words as a surprise for their success, making it seem as though you didn’t believe that they were capable of the achievement in the first place. Again, this might sound like an extreme example, but it can happen, especially if you use the wrong tone.

What To Say Instead

There is a magic phrase that solves the issues we mentioned above. Whenever your child accomplishes something — be it riding their bike for the first time, getting high grades, or winning in a competition — you can instead say “Be proud of yourself.”

What does this subtle change do? It removes you from the equation, so the conversation and accomplishment aren’t centered around what you feel about it. Instead, you’re telling your child that this is their accomplishment and that they should feel good about what they did. When they’re proud of themselves, they’re also getting internal validation. The subtle shift in phrasing does wonders and removes the negative effects of simply saying “I’m proud of you.” 

Being Proud of Child: Final Thoughts

It’s not easy to let go of the age-old phrase “I’m proud of you.” However, having a better understanding of the father-child relationship means being critical of tradition and seeing how it can have subtle effects on your children’s upbringing. You may not get it right the first time, but continue practicing saying “You should be proud of yourself” and its variations. This way, your child can feel accomplished on their own. 

Watch the "Stop Telling Your Child You Are Proud of Them" video here:

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