You’re beaming. Your daughter crushed it at her gymnastics meet. Or maybe your son aced that U.S. states quiz. Our instinct as parents is to shower our children with praise in their moments of success. We want to boost them up because, geez, there’s plenty that can bring them down in the day. And we want them to feel pride in their hard work. We want them to continue working hard. Plus, your child deserves to be celebrated.
But do they… completely?
We Americans value independence. We glorify the individual who shapes his or her own identity and destiny through choice, ability, and effort.
Yet, I don’t know any kid who hasn’t benefitted from the support (both emotional and financial) of you, their parent. Teachers and coaches deserve Empire-State-building-sized trophies this year, as far as I’m concerned. And there are countless others who propel our children to their fullest potential. How about the pediatrician who ingrained in your son the importance of a healthy diet so he had the mental clarity to remember where exactly Missouri is? Or your daughter’s friend who helped her perfect that backbend? Or perhaps even Mary Lou Retton, who inspired her?
This is not to say that your kid doesn’t deserve props. We, as parents, should be our kids’ loudest and most obnoxious fans. Our children need that in our hyper-competitive, goal-driven society.
But there’s another angle from which we can frame success that isn’t centered on your child’s magnificence.
That angle? Gratitude.
Being grateful is realizing that the goodness in your life has come to you, not only because you earned it, but because of other people.
Study after study over the past decade shows that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.
Not only that, but when we acknowledge that success always comes on the shoulders of others, we don’t diminish our child’s worth. Rather we foster a sense of connection in our child. Since other people and things contribute to our good fortune, reminding your child who helped them achieve their win will connect them to others, nature and even something larger than themselves.
Why is this connection important?
A sense of connectedness is the number one resilience-building factor for youth. According to the American Psychological Association, “Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.”
This means we should try and use every opportunity we have to promote connectedness. Our society tells us it’s all about you, the individual. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. But that’s not the reality of life. So much of our good fortune comes to us, not because we deserve it, but because of forces outside ourselves.
So let’s appreciate that—let’s be grateful—and teach our kids to as well.
It’s okay to say “Your teacher worked so hard to teach you the states, and you worked so hard to memorize them!” Or “You put so much effort into prepping for your gymnastics meet! Your little brother got schlepped to a gazillion practices for you!”
Tell your child how awesome they are after they crush it. And then ask them who helped them get there, or encourage them to think about the circumstances that allowed them to succeed. You’ll double the win.