“I’m so proud of you.” Most likely all parents have said that to their child with sincerity and good intentions. Unfortunately, it mainly tends to be said when a child has done well at something. The implication is that parents are proud of the accomplishment, thus it is a form of praise rather than encouragement.
Surely, there is no fault in giving praise, but parents who say they are proud of their children are unwittingly giving recognition to themselves. That’s because being proud means being “very happy and pleased because of something you have done, something you own, someone you know or are related to, etc.” (Merriam Webster online dictionary). With this definition in mind, parents can’t say that they are proud of their child’s accomplishment. They had nothing to do with it. To be proud of their child means they are praising themselves for the way they are raising their child. There is nothing wrong with that and saying that. But only a child can be proud of what he or she has done.
Semantics aside, another drawback of parents telling their child how proud they are is that it risks altering their child’s outlook on life. In her book Mindset, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck discusses two kinds of mindsets; fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe that all traits and skills are set and cannot be developed much. Thus, when parents express how proud they are of their child, which typically is only said when the child has gotten good grades or won an award, the child internalizes a message that the reward is what brings praise. Over time, the child begins to understand that parents are not proud of him or her, but instead of the accomplishment due to the fact that parents only express their pride when their child has attained something.
What pays off in the long run
However, parents are not doing this deliberately. More likely, their intention is to encourage their child. A better way to do that is to acknowledge the time and determination put into attaining a goal: “I’m impressed with how hard you’ve worked and commited yourself.” Dr. Dweck calls this a growth mind set. This kind of phrase is internalized as encouragement by their child. The child learns resilience and drive as he or she realizes that intelligence and skills are not fixed; they are developed through hard work and determination. Thus, parents should not solely express being proud of the end result. They should admire the focus and commitment their child shows toward an endeavour.
With this in mind, a better way to tell your child how you feel is to say, “I admire your dedication” Even better, parents can say such a phrase before the event; be it a test or a competition. Prior to a big event, look your child in the eyes and say, “You should be proud of all the work you have done to get ready for this. I’m impressed with the way you prepared. You have put yourself in a position to succeed.” This helps a child internalize self-worth and the child soon starts to be proud no matter the outcome. After all, even the best preparation methods don’t always lead to a top mark or first place. But dedication pays off in the long run.
And if parents do feel compelled to use the word proud, they should give ownership of pride to their child. “You must be really proud of yourself and all the work you put into reaching your goal.”
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter so much if parents are proud of their child. What matters more is that a child is proud of himself or herself. The most effective way for that to happen is by parents offering encouragement by recognizing their child’s diligence. By helping to develop tenacity and fortitude, their child can stride into adulthood with the assurance and confidence to succeed. Instilling that in their child is something every parent can be proud of.