I read a post recently where the author said that we should not say, “I’m proud of you” to your child, but instead “Be proud of yourself.” While it is important to encourage our children to be proud of an accomplishment or of the person they are becoming or of how they have improved, it is even more important that our kids know that we are proud of them! Especially our teenagers.
“I am proud of you.“
How we encourage others, or cheer them on, is in part cultural. Each culture has it’s own way of encouraging their children. In the Italian culture it is often through criticism. This may sound strange when you do not live in this particular culture, but I think that the thinking is that if I compliment my kids, tell them I am proud of them or that they are doing great, they will become prideful and no longer continue to work hard to improve themselves and to grow. In the American culture we tend to be pretty big cheerleaders. We give compliments and encouragement fairly easily, especially to children. In the Dutch culture it is also different. Eleonore Breukel, a Dutch interculturist said, “Others may think that we don’t have empathy. And maybe that is so because we think truthfulness goes before empathy,” And these are just three cultures!
And yet, when it comes to teenagers, I think it is hard for most cultures to encourage and say how proud you are of your child. It can be challenging to focus on the good things they do, when you are picking up after them all day, dealing with sarcasm, eye rolling and sass, and listening to them challenge you and your authority daily.
It’s easy to cheer and clap and fuss when your baby takes their first step, or says Mamma for the first time. . .then at a certain age we forget to do this. It’s easy and even natural to tell your baby good job when he takes his first steps, or puts a toy away, or burps after being fed, but it does not come as naturally to encourage our teen. Maybe we don’t say good job when he puts his clothes away, because he should be responsible enough to do that on his own by now, but we do scold him when he leaves his clothes lying around. Maybe we don’t say good job studying, because she knows how important it is to study, but we scold her when she forgets her homework or gets a low grade.
Recently I was reminded that it is not easy to be an adolescent. Do you remember your adolescence? I do. I remember vividly the stress and anxiety over tests, or professors who were extremely demanding, impatient, or graded hard. I remember the pressure to fit in, the loneliness when you didn’t and hurt feelings when a “friend” let you down. Everything is new and the emotions sometimes feel bigger than your capability to manage them…My kids hear all day long from professors, coaches and music instructors, “You can do more. You are not giving your best. You can improve. Last year, mid way through the school year, my daughter got a 8- in Italian (10 is the max, but they do not ever give it here). The professor told her during the parent teacher conferences, “I want to see this year’s 8 become last year’s 9. You are not giving your best. You could do better.” My perfectionist daughter came away from the parent-teacher conference in tears. Distraught over an 8-, which is an excellent grade. Sometimes I think kids just need to hear, “you are doing fine. You can do it. I’m proud of you. Good job.” Just like when they were little. Because the challenges they face only become more difficult, and we all need someone who is on our side.
“Stop and recognize the good things they do.”
So, I am trying. I am trying as a parent to stop and recognize the good things they do. And to praise them. To say, “Thank you so much for putting your clothes away without me asking.” or “I noticed you are getting along better with your sister this week. Thank you for how you are trying. I am really proud of you.” or “I noticed that this year you have been studying a lot more. And that we don’t have to ask you to study. I am really proud of you and how hard you are working.” or “I noticed you have been getting your homework done right away instead of leaving it until the last minute, that is a really great decision! I am so proud of you.” And obviously I still have to take the time to talk with them when they make mistakes, when they aren’t being respectful or kind. But every once in a while I just let it slide if his room stays messy for a week. Because maybe that week he had lots of homework, music lessons, 2 tests, played guitar in church, and is coming down with a cold. And so instead of losing my patience that you cannot even see his desk anymore, I try and take a deep breath and remember what it was like to be a teenager. To keep up with everyone’s expectations of you, adjust to new and ever growing responsibilities, to not feel tired at night but exhausted in the morning, to honestly forget your things ALL over the house because well, you are thinking about 6 million other things and not about your shoes that everyone is tripping over.
And so EJ, Rory and Chlo, I am proud of you. You are great kids. You are doing a good job. Keep doing the best you can. We love you.