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Why You Shouldn’t Say “I’m So Proud of You”

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Why Saying "I'm So Proud of You" Is Bad

Yesterday at a mom’s group, I was speaking about “praise” versus “encouragement.” Typically, parents agree they want to encourage, NOT praise, but inevitably someone will ask me, “Can’t I say I’m proud of you? What’s so wrong with that?”

Parents can’t seem to imagine dropping this seemingly vital comment from their repertoire.

Well, today my 14-year-old daughter gave me a peek into the child’s perspective on this when she said to me, “Mom, I am so glad you don’t say I’m proud of you.” I said, “Really? Why is that?”

She said, “You know how I was trying to get fit and lose some weight? I just told Zoe [her sister] that I lost two pounds this week and she smiled and said, “I’m so proud of you!” and it felt awful. It made me feel like she really does want me to lose weight and be thinner. That she doesn’t think I am okay at this weight.”

I listened and replied, “But I was excited too when you told me about your weight loss. Do you feel I’m judging you too?” She answered “No, Mom, what you said was totally different.  You said you were excited for me and my accomplishments that I worked hard on. You said you were happy that I got what I was going for.  I loved hearing that support and belief in me.”

I asked Lucy’s permission to share her perspective with my parent readers.  I hope some of you feel better dropping the “I’m so proud of you” line now too.  Gosh, I hope Zoe doesn’t feel badly reading this. I know she was not intendingto make her sister feel badly.  She didn’t know the power and message of those words, just like most parents don’t.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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39 Responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Say “I’m So Proud of You””

  1. Renee

    This is exactly what I thought every time my mom would say how proud she was of me or my dad was of me. It felt like they congratulated themselves on my accomplishments (and I actually think they do take credit for raising me in a particular way and are not just happy for me). I am a chronic people pleaser I think because of this shift in focus away from what would make me happy to what would make them proud. For one of my birthdays, the card my mom sent me wasn’t a birthday card but some kind of special “we are proud of you” card. She never sends me birthday cards so it still really stands out in my mind.

    What made it worse was that my brother and sister were not doing very well in life after age 30, and I imagine they felt the pain of shame because they did not get these messages of pride as much as I did. And so every family holiday was torture: my parents were expressing pride of me in one way or another and in return, my siblings would find opportunities to take me down a peg or two. It has gotten to the point that I don’t want to be at family events and am acting out. I am tired of being taken for granted by everyone in my family. There are other dynamics at work that I won’t get into, but for me, this particular dynamic has caused me a lot of emotional pain. I have tried to communicate it but it didn’t go well.

    Reply
    • Ted

      I am proud of all you for expressing proudly your views on being proud, as well as the exchange of the term “proud”, whether accepted or directed outward as we proudly study, hence resulting in discussion and informed conclusions.

      Reply
    • David

      This article is useful to gain insight and empathy towards others out there and how they might feel about certain terms.

      But to everyone like Renee who is an adult and feels abused by someone saying they’re “proud of you”, I believe you’re looking too much into it, thinking too much about it, and the result of that is taking something negative out of something said in a purely congratulatory and positive manner. They’re just saying congratulations, I’m happy for you, good job, keep going, you’re awesome 95% of the time. They just want you to be happy!

      Society has become so isolated and less human due to factors like the nuclear family, huge distances between friends/people you’re close to due to career changes/market forces, the internet turning everything into a text message devoid of vocal intonation and emotion, etc. Judgements against these sorts of nano/micro-transgressions just further pushes us apart.

      Should I have to spend 10 minutes just thinking about every compliment I give to someone because of all the negative ways they could take it? Nobody would ever talk to anyone that way. When I used to think like that, I NEVER texted anyone, because I always wondered if they’d take it the wrong way. I’d rather live in a world where we give each other the benefit of the doubt instead of always assuming there’s a hidden agenda, that there’s some negative manipulative subtext to every message.

      Maybe a better response would be to talk to your Child about what you mean when you say that “you’re proud of them” and making sure they know that most people just mean the best for them when saying nice things to them. It’s hard enough to bridge the communication gap as is, lets not fill the gap with pessimism, negativity, and paranoia. Even if the bridge is built out of the most caring, loving, truly genuine intentions, if the foundation is resting on all that negativity, it will always collapse.

      Reply
      • Michael W Grome

        David, I was about to write the very same thing and I thank you for writing it.

        Political correctness ties into this article in that it involves being considerate in regard to what we project. However, there seems to be little to no push in our society for people to be considerate in how we interpret signals we receive.

        As a result, someone can be entirely considerate in what they say or text and still have their words be interpreted negatively. However, if everyone gave up their biases and offered each other the benefit of the doubt, there may be significantly fewer perceived negative interactions.

        I’m glad to see that others are realizing this phenomenon, too.

        Reply
        • Alyson Schafer

          I really appreciate the dialogue and insights you are sharing. Thanks Michaeal, David and others for keeping this conversation rich and expansive.

          Reply
  2. Liza

    “I’m proud of you” is a very self centered statement. When I am told by someone that they are proud of me for losing weight and “looking great”, what I hear is, ‘I’m so glad you finally did what you had to do to look good enough for me to feel ok about being seen with you’. My thought is that they are looking at my appearance and proclaiming that in their estimation I’m now acceptable whereas before, in their estimation, I was not.

    Reply
    • Author Bessie Sims

      I agree with you totally. I’m an author and when people say I’m so proud of you I heae well it’s about time you climbed out of that hole.

      Reply
      • Chad Tanner

        I think both of you have assumptions you need to drop, because when you come across and meet someone who doesn’t think like you do, you are just going to judge them unnecessarily. I just sent my sister a comment about how proud of her I am. I sent her this comment because I am to shy to say it to her, I don’t socialize often so talking to my sister is uncommon. I have never once thought of my saying I was proud of her as being a comment that has a hidden message in it like the one you both assume to be true. If my sister lost weight and I said I was proud of her, it was because I think back on that moment and it makes me surge with pride. But also, I don’t doubt that those who are feeble minded will assume they can read the intentions and thoughts of others, unless if you actually know you have that skill, then you should deny any and all false assumptions. When I read your comments, you made me feel scared like my sister would not understand that my emotion towards her was pride.

        Reply
  3. Alyson Schafer

    Good points Liza! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  4. Hilary

    Personally I tell my children I am proud of their achievements and I don’t use it to flatter myself. I do object however you the term that I have seen people use which is “you/my daughter/my son has done me proud” which implies they have done something that makes you look good. I feel that language evolves and perhaps people don’t use words in the correct dictionary definition but then that can apply to many other words. I mean the word bad can mean something is good! Personally if you get too caught up in details the actual sentiment is lost. If telling my kids that I’m proud of them makes them feel good then I don’t see a problem!!

    Reply
    • nicola

      Totally agree with your response. I tell my children what I am proud of them for. It is nothing to do with my ego, but everything to do with giving praise where it’s due, being encouraging, supportive and loving.

      Reply
  5. Bec

    I happened to stumble upon this page and I feel I need to say that I believe kids should be told that their parents are proud.. This is all I have ever wanted my mum and dad to ever say to me… Although I’m 23 now I just wish that one day they will, particularly my mum, would say she is proud of me and that she loves me… Sorry if I have gone off topic….

    Reply
    • Sarah

      I also agree with Bec. I strongly believe that others need to know how proud we are of their smallest or biggest effort in bettering themselves. People work hard to achieve their goals and the encouragement from their surrounding should never be held back. Positive reinforcement has always meant a great deal to the youth I work with. They may not be getting it at home but they can count on me and my team to be proud of their efforts. Were a safety net that helps them reach out further and further towards their unsure future!

      Reply
  6. Denise

    Thank you for sharing this. I have never felt comfortable with this phrase either – it feels like “pigeonhole” energy.

    Reply
  7. Paul

    People have ups and downs. I’m proud of some of the things that my daughter has done, and I’m not proud of some things. If you praise the person, rather than the positive things they’ve done, then you also condone the negative things they’ve done. “I’m proud of you for graduating high school” is a lot better than “I’m proud of you”. Pride, if warranted, is OK. Teach your children when it is warranted by praising the right things.

    Reply
  8. Donna

    As a 48 yr old with 3 older sisters and 2 living parents, the “I’m proud of you” has always grated on me a bit, most recently as said by one sister just last week. I had just finished telling her a story about a choice I had made a couple of years earlier, that she was not aware of. Especially from a sibling, and at this age, it does seem to be a very self centered statement by her, a way of trying to taking credit for/ownership of my actions and choices, as if she had been a factor in them.

    With regards to my parents, it still bothers me when they say it, but not quite as much. After all, they did create me and I would not exist without them. Still, the choices I made that led me to this point were mine. I don’t hold them responsible for my bad choices, why should they be responsible the good ones? Note: I still smile genuinely and say thank you when my parents offer that comment, after I internally switch out the words “proud of” with “happy for”.

    I can’t speak with certainty as to how a current child might perceive the “proud” phrase, however even with my nieces and nephews over the years I have always used “happy for you, it’s amazing what you did, that is so wonderful…terrific….fantastic…etc.) and refrained from using “proud”. In my eyes, it was so that they could relish their self sufficiency.

    Additionally, in recent years I have provided input to someone to help him achieve some financial milestones and I have always been happy for him in his accomplishments and for how happy those accomplishments made him. Regardless of my input (which he could have found on the internet or in a book or any thousands of other ways) his accomplishments were not mine to take credit for, to own or to be proud of. He’s the one that did the work, that made the hard choices and succeeded. I simply presented other ways of thinking/doing things to which he had not previously been exposed.

    Reply
  9. Veronique

    Interesting to read this as a middle-aged woman. I am married but have been
    jobless for a couple of years and searching hard. Despite being university-educated
    and having had long-time professional employment until these last two years, the
    best that was offered to me after an interview recently was a terrible assembly-line
    factory job where most workers have to quit after just a few month due to quickly
    developing carpal tunnel or other repetitive strain injuries. When my father
    asked if the job had been offered to me, I said that yes it had and he exclaimed,
    “Oh, I’m so proud of you!”. He also suddenly had a few thousand dollars available
    to offer towards a vehicle so that I could drive to the out-of-town job. I ended up
    declining the job due to the bad reputation of the factory in regards to worker
    wrist/hand injuries and any offer of money for a vehicle was quickly rescinded.
    So yes, for those of you who have children, do be careful with ever saying
    “I’m proud of you” in what might come across as a conditional way.
    Even into adulthood and from an elderly parent, it hurts to hear that instead
    of “I’m relieved/happy for you”.

    Reply
  10. Krmanj

    u guys should just be happy to have a parents ”’ some out there they don’t even have no buddy or in very young age they last both parents” I personally wish if I had a at lest one parent than I wouldn’t even care what she or he would say about me or to me.. just a thought ..

    Reply
  11. Dad A

    Pride goeth before a fall.

    Reply
  12. James

    This is all just semantics. “I am proud of you” is just another way of saying “Well done! I love you.” Stop interpreting a positive sentiment so negatively. I also wish my parents had told me this more.

    Reply
  13. Pro M. Thius

    “I’m so glad” is fine…”I’m so proud of you” makes the person who says it Sick.

    Reply
  14. Virginia

    My sisters say I’m so proud of you, when I do something I accomplish. I can’t stand if! I also can t stand it when they tell there kids how proud they are. There is a toxic feeling that runs through my bones! It just doesn’t sound healthy and I feel like telling the to keep there pride! I’m glad I got to read this and all of the comment.

    Reply
    • alyson

      Glad the post resinated with you! Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts too.

      Reply
  15. V

    I agree & I don’t agree with your post. Being proud of your child and expressing it can be a huge confide booster and a lesson on what are the right priorities in life. The key is to be proud for the right things, like being kind to others, being a good friend, sticking to something even if it was hard, showing compassion & empathy, etc. I can tell you from personal experience, not telling your child that you’re proud of her at all can do a lot of harm.

    Reply
  16. V

    Yes, encouraging a child to love and be proud of her/himself is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give child. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting a child know of the positive feelings they generate in you. It teaches them to feel too. Children naturally want to please they’re parents and they want to know that their parents are paying attention and notice what they are doing right.

    Reply
  17. FS

    Semantics … really just be happy someone cares enough to proud of you or for you or excited about your accomplishments!

    Sometimes it feels like parents cant ever get it right. They are human beings with flaws like all of you. Let’s just focus on the essentials!

    Reply
  18. tc

    This is bs. I’m 17 and my parents have NEVER said they were proud of me in my entire life and it hurts. I do everything I can and I am proud of myself but my parents have never said a word about any of my accomplishments. I long for the day they might finally say it, but also hesitant because I know that I will cry, that’s how much it means to me. Please acknowledge your children’s accomplishments, let them know you are proud of them.

    Reply
    • alyson

      There are a million ways to show your child that they are loved and that you care deeply for them and are ecstatic for what they are learning, growing, doing, being!!! Eliminating one word “proud” doesn’t mean you stop showing your child many times a day their worth, value and lovability – just not with this word which denotes that the child is a chattel and it implies that merit is only to be gained by parental approval and judgment. I am sorry your parents are not doing their job 🙁 I think its great you are able to feel proud of yourself. I would let them know how you feel. – Good luck, Alyson

      Reply
  19. Bernard

    What a load of rubbish

    Reply
  20. End of the Praise-Junkie | Vicki Hoefle

    […] Read one Mom’s account of her daughter’s experience when her sister said, “I’m so proud of you!” You will see that when kids are raised with Encouragement from their parents instead of Praise, when someone says to them, “I’m proud of you,” it feels awful. It feels as if you weren’t able to do whatever it was that the parent was proud of, the parent would be disappointed. As parents you may think you are helping your child to feel good, but it has the opposite long-term effect. […]

    Reply
    • alyson

      Great to meet another Adlerian Parenting Expert! Love your site too Vicki. Thanks for chiming in on this one!

      Reply
  21. Theresa

    Wow, this entire article blows my mind. What I would have given to hear either of my parents tell me they were proud of me! I am 56 years old and to this day beam from ear to ear when someone tells me they are proud of me. I will continue to tell my grandchildren how proud I am of them, how smart they are, how beautiful they are….anything positive I can think of. Having never heard any positive statements growing up is so detrimental. I can’t stand the political correctness of today…we are not suppose to tell little girls they are pretty, tell them they are smart. I say tell them both! Fill them with enough positive statements to help them grow a healthy self-esteem!

    Reply
  22. Amy Lenard

    I agree with a lot of people here by the parent I’m proud of you is great and I wish my parents said it more BUT anyone else saying it — no–feels patronizing

    Reply
  23. Anonymous

    Honestly, as a kid who doesn’t hear the words “I’m proud of you”, it hurts because you will constantly find yourself trying to live up to an approval that will never happen. It makes it feel like all the work you put in to achieve a goal is pointless, especially after you run up to a parent and tell them with excitement how you did something amazing and they don’t tell you that they’re proud of you or your achievement.

    Reply
  24. Karen Catalan

    Wow…seems all a bit too complicated where it doesn’t need to be. Though I would never dismiss a vchild’s feelings if I was told my child that by telling him those words, it made him feel worse.

    To me, saying “I’m proud of you, whether to great friends, or to your child, it is no more and no less a deep form of support and admiration of what they have just achieved…no matter how small. He got an 85 in Science, when all semester he had struggled with it and the year prior it was his one grade in the high 70’s, when he was an A student.. I was thrilled and said, that’s amazing..I’m so proud of you! Translation…what an achievement!

    Why does everything have to be broken down into words spoken like a psychological major? or therapist? If I had those words handy, or had different words assembled on my tongue at that moment that would define “I’m proud of you” without saying , “I’m proud of you,” then of course I would have used them…but to me being proud of someone is saying you respect and admire what they were able to achieve. It doesn’t need to be read into anymore than that.

    Reply

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