Like it or not, there are just some parenting phrases that seem to become part of our vernacular the second we’re handed our first kid. Some of them we got from our parents — though we swore we’d never say them to our own kids.
“Because I said so, that’s why!”
Or how about the eye-roll-inducing, “One day you’ll thank me”?
Others are perfectly harmless, and we let them roll off our tongues without even thinking, almost as if we’re on auto-pilot.
“Good job!” we say, practically ad nauseam. And of course, the classic, “I’m proud of you!”
But it’s that last one that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, after reading some interesting parenting advice that has proven to be a game-changer in our family. The idea is simple: Instead of telling your kid “I’m proud of you,” change the wording to “You should be proud of yourself.”
It’s a small change, but ultimately, it’s a powerful one, because it encourages kids to develop a healthy sense of self before all else. And when I heard it, something inside me clicked. Of course I want my boys to work hard and try new things — but I want them to do it for themselves, not because they’re trying to please their parents or anyone else.
Charleszetta Waddles, an African-American activist and mother of 10 who rose from poverty to found a charity that supports Detroit’s poorest families, famously said that, “You can’t give people pride, but you can provide the kind of understanding that makes people look to their inner strengths and find their own sense of pride.”
That stuck with me; and I can’t help but think of
When we tell a child we are proud of them, we’re giving them an external evaluation of their performance. But what happens when they fail at something? Could they then be under the impression that they let us down? Children can also become dependent on the validation of others, unable to take pride in themselves. This can carry over into adulthood, where a person is constantly relying on others for approval and validation.
My oldest son has been demonstrating a lot of negative self-talk in the last few months, saying things like, “I’m not good at that,” and getting easily frustrated or discouraged. I can’t tell you how much it breaks my heart.
So, I’ve started to change the conversation, altering the way I talk to him about his accomplishments. I try to give him specifics about what he did well and tell him he should be proud of himself, and I reiterate this in small ways whenever I can.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure at first if this was even making a difference at all —until the other day, when he told me with a burst of excitement, “I’m proud of myself! I think I did a good job!”
It was such a small thing, but the moment was powerful. I had never heard him talk about himself that way — not even once.
Still, he stopped himself right after, and with a concerned face, asked me if he was “bragging.” I assured him that he wasn’t, and that being proud of your accomplishments is not a boastful act. After all, he wasn’t saying, “I did better than everyone else!” He was simply saying that he did a good job.
My husband and I both struggle with depression, which is why we’ll do anything in our power to combat negative self-talk and self-doubt in our children. I’ve spent years battling with an incessant voice of negativity inside my head — one that’s always telling me I’m failing somehow — and I’ll be damned if my own kids wind up plagued by them, too.
Growing up, I had wonderful parents who would often tell me what a great kid I was, but I was also a highly sensitive child that would take any criticism to heart. I never wanted to let them down, and sometimes, that was to my own detriment.
Both my boys are highly sensitive little souls; especially my oldest. So when I see him demonstrating the same kind of patterns that I battle with myself, there’s no getting around it; it crushes me.
I would do anything to spare him from this kind of suffering, and I do, in lots of little ways, every single day. And now, that includes changing the way I praise him — in the hopes that it gives him an inner confidence I never had; one that he can carry with him through adulthood and beyond.