10 Good Ways to Let Your Children Know You Are Proud of Them

Celebrating Student
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The scene is eerily familiar to many parents.  After a piano recital, the parents are meeting their children in the hallway outside the music studio.  A child who did well, but seemed disappointed in his own performance, received effusive praise from parents and grandparents.  “We are SO proud of you,” they say.  Another child who did well and knew it receives faint praise from her parents.  “You did well except for those few mistakes.  Keep working at it and you will be a great pianist.”  

The...MORE first set of parents told the piano teacher that their pride reflected the child’s determination and how far their child had come in the last year and they wanted to encourage him to work even harder.  The second set of parents told the teacher that they knew the child did well but didn’t “want it to go to her head.”  

.   There is no more difficult dichotomy in philosophy.   We are encouraged as parents to help .  But the other side of the coin - helping children be humble and modest about their accomplishments - is an important character trait and practice as well.   So figuring out how to let our children know we are proud of them can be a delicate balance.  Too few expressions of praise leave kids feeling bad.  Too many expressions of praise can leave them insufferably arrogant.   

Striking the balance to find appropriate praise - and appropriate expressions of pride in the accomplishments of our children can be pretty tricky.   These tips can help parents find the right approach to appropriate praise and appropriate expressions of pride in a child’s efforts and accomplishments.  

  • 01 of 10

    Praise them for the things that matter.

    Piano Recital
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    Our children get to do things all the time, and some of those things are more important than others.  In the piano recital example, if a child has worked really hard, practiced every day, chose a difficult piece, and improved significantly, a high level of praise is appropriate.  On the other hand, if the piano student bombed the recital because they didn’t prepare, didn’t practice and chose a less challenging piece, parents may not want to be effusive in their praise.  Make sure that you praise...MORE significant accomplishments but don’t spend much time with expressions of praise when they are not deserved.  

  • 02 of 10

    Praise more than the outcome - praise the process

    High School Tennis Team
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    McKenzie is on the high school tennis team and just won the final doubles match in the region tournament.   Her parents might praise her accomplishment of winning the tournament match, but an expression of “we are so proud of you” might miss the mark.  She might feel like the win was all that mattered.  But if they make a comment like, “Doesn’t it feel good to know that all of that practicing and effort to improve paid off?” McKenzie will feel validated not only for the win but also for all that...MORE went into it.   She won’t just feel lucky to have won but to feel true personal satisfaction in the accomplishment.

  • 03 of 10

    Talk about the obstacles they had to overcome

    Celebrating Student
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    When children accomplish something in their lives, they have often had to overcome obstacles or difficulties in the process.   Maybe they needed to sacrifice some things like time with friends to practice or hone their skills.   Perhaps they had some early losses in competition that taught them areas for improvement.  When we express pride not only in their accomplishment but also recognize what they had to overcome in the process, they can see how long we have watched and how much attention we...MORE paid to their efforts along the way.  

  • 04 of 10

    Express confidence and appreciation

    Father expressing pride in son
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    Bragging about our children’s accomplishments is not as helpful to them as letting them know that we are pleased with their success and that they should be as well.  Expressing confidence in their abilities - if a child did this well, she can do many things well - and appreciation for the effort they put into the experience are much better expressions for them to hear and internalize.  

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Don’t overdo it

    Pride in accomplishment
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    Keeping your expressions of pride in context is important.  Kids have an innate sense of proportion when it comes to their lives.   Scoring her first points in a soccer game is worth some focus and attention, but it probably isn’t the kind of accomplishment that warrants a big neighborhood party.   Having a small family event (maybe pizza or ice cream) and a good discussion with the family about how to achieve personal goals would be appropriate.

  • 06 of 10

    Choose the right time

    Father praising a child on a bike
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    Praise is best offered and best received when it is close to the accomplishment.   But, using our soccer analogy, it would be good to give some high fives at the game, but it would also be good to have the family ice cream celebration that day rather than waiting a week.   Close proximity of the event and the recognition makes the whole thing even more meaningful for our child.

  • 07 of 10

    Don’t bury positive expressions in negative lists

    Family celebrating at a restaurant
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    Too often, in an effort to not risk making our children conceited, we bury praise in the midst of negatives.  “While your grades still need a lot of work and you still aren’t  getting your bed made every day, we are sure proud of your first soccer goal.  Congratulations!”   Leave out the negatives and just offer sincere expressions of pride for the accomplishment at hand.  

  • 08 of 10

    Try “I’m proud for you,” not of you

    Proud father with soccer son
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    Larissa Dann, a 20-year veteran trainer of Parent Effectiveness Training in Australia, suggests that we stop saying “I am proud of you,” and start saying, “I am proud for you.”   It is a subtle shift from the accomplishment being about the parent to the accomplishment being about the child.  Other similar expressions that are child-focused include “Wow!  I am so impressed.” or “I’m so pleased for you!”  

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Focus on them when praising them

    Father and son talking
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    It can be easy for a parent to focus expressions of pride for a child onto others.  “If all of you children were more like McKenzie, you could all achieve so much!”  That is not an approach that builds confidence, but rather focuses on those who are not doing so well.   Offer appropriate praise directed at the child without making reference to her amazing parents or her lackluster siblings.  

  • 10 of 10

    Encourage them to recognize the efforts of others

    Child with thank you sign
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    One good way to keep children humble while still recognizing their accomplishments is to help them see how others contributed to their success.  After getting the straight A report card, it would be good to praise the child for their efforts, but also encourage them to think about and recognize the others who helped.  A short thank-you note to a teacher or a parent volunteer would be appropriate.  Helping the child see that there are many who work toward their success will help them feel good...MORE about their own accomplishment while still seeing that it is almost always a team effort.