The vast majority of parents say they're proud of their children, but their children may not be getting the message, according to a new survey.
KidsHealth.org and Time for Kids teamed up to study the relationships between parents and kids ages 8 to 14. Eighty-two percent of parents told researchers they're proud of their kids, but only 69 percent of kids say their parents are proud of them. Just 58 percent of kids in the 12- to 14-year-old range say their parents are proud of them.
Not huge discrepancies, but discrepancies nonetheless. So what gives?
"As kids get older, it's natural for more areas of conflict to arise," child psychologist D'Arcy Lyness, behavior health editor at KidsHealth.org and one of the survey authors, said in a release. "But parents who continue to convey to their kids the things that make them proud provide a firmer foundation on which to continue to foster their relationship."
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A strong relationship with your parents is linked to better resilience in children, the survey points out, and higher resilience usually predicts better academic performance, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and increased problem-solving skills.
We shouldn't assume our kids know we're proud of them, especially when we enter the higher-conflict ages, said Suzanne Zimbler, who wrote about the survey for Time for Kids.
"I don't take the results as a message that we should be praising our kids every chance we get," Zimbler told me. "At the same time, we have a lot of opportunities to let our kids know we're proud of them, and this is a reminder to take those opportunities."
Lyness emphasizes the importance of expressing pride when our kids use kind words, push themselves to try something new and during other moments that don't necessarily result in a trophy.
Which seems to be the key with praise - that many-splendored, yet highly fraught thing. Gallons of ink have been spilled on parsing parental praise: How much is enough? How much is too much? What's the right way to offer it? What's the way that saddles you with an entitled layabout who demands an allowance well into his 30s?
I interviewed Kristen Race on the topic once. Race is a Colorado-based child psychologist who wrote "Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today's Hectic World" (St. Martin's Griffin). She, like most experts, emphasizes the need for process-oriented praise, rather than outcome-oriented praise. Highlight the effort your kids put in, rather than the results.
"When we praise kids for hard work, they want to keep engaging in experiences," she said. "They see that the process, not just the outcome, provides value."
I thought of our conversation in the context of this latest study because she denounces a habit that I know I'm guilty of: praising the low-hanging fruit. ("Way to finish all your Cheez-Its, bud!")
"When we praise things that aren't challenging and don't require much effort, it all becomes white noise," Race said. "We don't need to say, 'Nice kick!' That's what you do on the soccer field."
Eventually, I suppose, that white noise can translate into kids who don't even hear our praise - or feel our pride - at all.
Best to save it, then, for the moments that truly make us proud. And then dish it out generously.
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