I'm Happy for You

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Working my way through Barbara Sher's insightful I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, I encountered the following helpful observation about child-rearing:

[F]ew parents realize that pride in a child's accomplishments can be a tricky issue: it implies ownership. You wouldn't walk up to a famous athlete and say, "I'm proud of you." You know he or she isn't yours to be proud of. (84)
Sher correctly notes that "your children ... belong to themselves," and suggests a better way of expressing happiness about their achievements: See the title.

Yes. My son is only three and it is only potty training. (Finally!) But the time to start cultivating this habit is now, now that I am aware of the issue with this very common expression.

-- CAV

P.S. And don't get me started on the trendy, too often meaningless, "Good job," which does avoid the problem noted above. I noticed it was way over-used when my daughter wasn't even two, and decided never to use it myself. Indeed, my daughter surprised me one day by jokingly saying "good job" in a patronizing way. That let me know I was right to avoid that particular knee-jerk phrase.


Steve D said...

‘You know he or she isn't yours to be proud of.’

However, you have no relationship with a famous athlete, while you have a strong relationship with your child. Therefore, it is not a great analogy. Moreover, while you may not own the child you do own the title of parent and have invested a great deal of time, energy and thought into bringing him up. Perhaps that pride in the child’s accomplishment is merely a manifestation of the pride in your job of raising her?

(In the same way, pride in a spouse’s accomplishment may be a manifestation of pride in your job of choosing them)

‘Good job’ is a cliché because people use it too often, and inappropriately. Replace it with something like “I’m happy for you,’ and it will only be a matter of time until that sentence becomes meaningless as well.

Gus Van Horn said...


You have a good point regarding "proud of you" in that you can claim credit for your role in helping the child reach an accomplishment. So there's an argument to throw a "proud of you" in here and there when it's clear there's a team effort.

It becomes meaningless when it's used too often, or thoughtlessly, or both. In practice, I like to use a variety of phrases, and, more importantly, not mindlessly praise every single thing they do, which is what I really have issue with (as far as "good job" goes). I want my kids to know I recognize their achievements. They probably don't need me to tell them that they did well, but they are proud and want to share their happiness when they do something new.

Another forum re-posts from here, and I happened to see someone suggest using, "You should be proud of yourself," there. I like that, too.


Steve D said...

You are correct that mindlessly praising everything is counterproductive. Heck it doesn't even work with a dog.

Also, regarding using praise to teach, I find it is effective to specify precisely what aspects (of the job they did) you are praising and potentially other aspects which may not have been done so well. This adds a learning component. We can learn a lot from both our successes and failures, and especially by the comparison between them.

Gus Van Horn said...

Also good points.

One thing I think happens too much is that people don't always calibrate praise to the level of ability or experience of the child. It is especially important for parents, who know our kids best, to take these things into account.