How to Let Your Children Know You Are Proud of Them

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.

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.


Praise Them for Things That Matter

Close up of the hands of a girl playing the piano.
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Our children get to do things all the time, and some of those things are more important than others. For example, if a child participated in a piano recital, 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 significant accomplishments but don’t spend much time with expressions of praise when they are not deserved. 


Praise the Process

Physically challenged teenage girl playing tennis
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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.

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 went into it. She won’t just feel lucky to have won but to feel true personal satisfaction in the accomplishment.


Talk About Obstacles

A mother and teenage daughter chatting playfully
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When children accomplish something in their lives, they've 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 ​a 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 paid to their efforts along the way.


Express Confidence

Father expressing pride in son
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Bragging about our children’s accomplishments can be helpful to them by 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.


Refrain From Overdoing It

Girls soccer team celebrating
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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.


Choose the Right Time

Father and son on a bicycle lane
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Praise is best offered and best received when it is close to the accomplishment. 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 to the event and the recognition makes the whole thing even more meaningful for our child.


Avoid 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.


Try 'I'm Proud for You'

Mother watching daughter play guitar on sofa
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Larissa Dann, a 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.


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 your 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 comparisons to their amazing parents or their siblings.


Recognize the Efforts of Others

Boy making thank you card for teacher
Teresa Short / Getty Images

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 about their own accomplishment while still seeing that it is almost always a team effort.

1 Source
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  1. Gordon Parenting. How To Praise Kids for Effort.

By Wayne Parker
Wayne's background in life coaching along with his work helping organizations to build family-friendly policies, gives him a unique perspective on fathering.