Are You Proud of Your Kids? Maybe You Shouldn’t Be

When my daughter Allegra was a wee thing, and she experienced an achievement—stacking a high block onto the top of a tower, getting all her shirts tucked away into a closet cubicle, having a teacher write “Good job!” on the top of a submitted paper—my first reaction was to compliment her with “I’m so proud of you.”

That’s what I knew from my youth: “I’m proud of you” was a sought-after goal. Hearing someone say I’d made him or her feel proud was the external validation to chase.

But then. When Allegra was a wee thing, and she experienced an achievement—helping her brother climb a staircase safely, having a drawing turn out how she intended it to, agonizingly cajoling a bean seed to send up a shoot—my husband Byron’s first reaction was to compliment her with “You should be proud of yourself!”

It’s an important shift, his wording versus mine. His compliment roots the achievement in her actions and will. My compliment thanks her for letting me feel good as I bask in the reflection of her effort.

By the time our girl was three, I’d been retrained. My kid’s successes aren’t about how they make me feel. They’re about how they make her feel.



Allegra caused a collective eyebrow raise amongst longtime fans at the first cross-country meet of the season. Two years ago, she acknowledged, “I know I’ll never run Varsity on this team.” A year ago, she made Varsity and even the top seven.



She finished second on the team. Fourth overall. The top two finishers were State champions. After those two, in third place, was the long-accepted “fastest girl” on Allegra’s team.

And then.

Out of nowhere—came our girl, Allegra.

You set goals. You ran almost every day all summer. You went to strength-training classes. You decided it’s okay to pass people. You boosted your own confidence; you made yourself strong; out on the course today, you stayed focused, committed, and badass.

Hey, sweetheart?

You should be proud of yourself.

Image Credit: William Garnett. Post adapted from Facebook.

Jocelyn Pihlaja has been teaching English at the college level since 1991. She has a husband who cooks dinner every night, kids who hold up hands requesting “Silence!” when their reading is interrupted, and a blog, O Mighty Crisis. When the world is too much with her, she retreats to books, trails, and gardens.

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