Sometimes, with good intention, we send mixed messages to our children.
We want them to think for themselves, be internally motivated, and not be overly influenced by other people's needs or opinions, yet the way we make them feel good is by saying:
"I'm proud of you."
There is only love and appreciation behind these words. But there also is an underlying message of what it means to feel worthy. If you do something that I or others approve of, then you will feel good. If you do something that impresses me or others, then you will feel valued.
What is our true definition of success for our children? What do we want them to understand about accomplishment? Should their focus be on the opinion of others or their opinion of themselves?
Our job is to help our children feel comfortable with their insides. We support this by seeing, listening and honoring what they do, but we can also remind them to tap into how they feel about their accomplishments in an effort to strengthen their inner compass.
So maybe when our child brings home an A, instead of saying "I'm proud of you," we can say, "Wow, that must feel great!" A simple shift, but a completely different message. Instead of creating their joy with our approval, we allow them to feel their own joy and join in their celebration.
When kids are young, we may feel that we need to constantly direct them or apply extensive external motivation to influence their decision making. But our underlying hope is that they eventually learn to not base their decisions on another person's approval. We hope they base their decisions on what feels right to them.
Then, as they move through life, they can be guided by their own inner awareness instead of societal expectation. They can place personal contentment above approval and popularity, and understand that while it's wonderful to have people noticing accomplishments, it's even better to feel inner alignment and peace.
I haven't given up saying "I'm proud of you." Sometimes these words are perfect descriptors for how I am feeling. But I try to balance it with phrases like, "What do you think about that?" or "That must feel amazing!" Always with the intention to hear and witness their hard work, but then hand back what is rightfully theirs.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.