“Mummy, are you proud of me?”
My seven-year-old son was swinging a gold medal he had just won for his school sports day in front of my face, when he suddenly paused and frowned, before posing this question. I felt a slight pang of guilt (was I not looking pleased enough?).
I’m certainly very proud of you, darling!
I said, hugging him tightly. The creases on his forehead disappeared, and giving me an impish grin, my little ball of energy skipped away and started to bounce up and down my long-suffering-but-still-going-strong sofa.
Saying “That is great!” was not enough for my son.
He wanted to know that I was indeed proud of him.
It was necessary for him to know that I thought what he did was indeed an achievement. That assurance was what he was looking for.
Children, especially young ones, constantly look towards their parents, the most influential adults in their lives, for the signal that they are doing something right and that they have achieved something.
That’s why as a parent, I need to give my son that signal, by saying it out loud and clear.
However, it is important for me to say it not just when I see a gold medal. I also need to say that I am proud of him when I see him showing kindness by helping our elderly neighbour next door up the bus or displaying moral courage when he tells his best friend not to cheat, even when it could threaten his friendship with him.
My son needs to know that I am proud of him for who he is, and not for what he achieves. He needs to know that he does not need to hand me gold medals or achieve straight A’s to impress me. No, he just needs to be convinced that he can count on me to be proud of him, even when the deed may not seem as significant.
He needs to know that is the kind of love he can expect from me.
Which brings me to the next important thing I tell him quite frequently: “I love you”.
Sure, action speaks louder than words, but children often do not possess the mental capacity to figure out that their parents actually do love them, regardless of what they do. They need the words to feel that they are loved. It is assuring.
The aftermath of the scolding episodes I have with my son always (well, almost always!) ends well, as he nods and hugs me, rubbing his tear-stained face on my shoulder when I tell him that I love him and just do not approve of his actions, not him. He needs to know that my love is unconditional.
Yes, my love for my child, like that of any parent, comes with no strings attached. I am proud of him and I love him, and I make sure he knows that too.
Written by Shoba Nair