THE BLOG
04/30/2011 12:12 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Problem with 'I'm So Proud of You' (And What to Say Instead)

If you peruse the literature on female development, you may notice that there is a common thread regarding how many young girls often lose their voice by the age of 10. They are exposed to messages to be "sugar and spice and everything nice," to be "seen and not heard," to "look pretty." So what happens when we don't look so pretty, when we have feelings that are not so "nice," when we do have a voice that may or may not agree, and when we do want to shine and share our light? For many little girls, they begin to refrain from accessing their opinions and preferences and from expressing their authentic feelings. Slowly these young women become "other-directed" rather than "self-directed." The consequence in adulthood, from this cumulative disconnect and self-neglect, can lead to resentment, confusion and depression. But there is always an opportunity for an awakening, reminding us of what we knew from the beginning and of how precious we really are.

This is a story that offers parents a jewel of wisdom to share with their daughters and sons, and reminds us grown-ups where our true pride lies.

When my niece was 13 years old, I called her after a school play to ask her how it went. "It was great," she exclaimed. "I was really proud of my performance!" When I was in junior high school, sharing in this way would have been considered boastful or "stuck-up." When my sister got on the phone, I told her how incredible it was that my niece could really celebrate and acknowledge herself, at an age when young girls often begin to dim their light to be accepted and not perceived as "conceited." She told me something that I vowed to share with as many parents as possible: "When my kids were small, I made a conscious decision to never say, 'I'm proud of you.' Instead, I have always said to them, 'You must be so proud of yourself.'"

I was immediately struck by the power of these words. My sister's decision was not only insightful but so profound. This approach helps children realize, from a young age, that their true compass and locus of truth, approval and love always lies within themselves.

I've been spreading the gift of these words of wisdom ever since, encouraging parents to consistently use this reflective mirroring back to your children, not just about their accomplishments but "just because." "You must be so proud of the person that you are. I am so glad you are here and love you so much." Can you imagine hearing that or saying that to ourselves everyday? It's a beautiful reminder to us all.

So when was the last time you gave yourself, as my friend Lisa Greenfield calls it, some "toothbrush love" in the morning mirror?

Be proud of who you are.

Be proud that you are here.

That makes you a living miracle.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)

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You can find Dr. Cole on Facebook.

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