There is a fine line between being proud of your child's accomplishments and bragging.
Are you just sharing the good news about your little darling’s test scores?
Or are you bragging your head off?
Parents walk a fine line in the era of “Toddlers & Tiaras” and summer chess camps, when second-graders vie for spots on traveling sports teams and high-school students juggle a dazzling array of academics and extracurriculars many of them with built-in ranking systems.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being proud of your kid — or sharing your pride, says Wendy Grolnick, psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
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“Nature has prepared us (for parenthood) with this wonderful tendency to see our children as fantastic in every way, and that’s a good thing because it takes a lot to parent a child,” she says.
Problems arise when the good news about a child’s accomplishment doesn’t come from a good place, when it’s too plentiful, or when you share the news with the wrong people, parents and experts say.
Joyce Slaton, a blogger for BabyCenter.com‘s Momformation, recently caused a stir with the column, “I Hate Hearing About Your Gifted Child.” Slaton says that picking your audience is key. Your husband or partner, your parents and your close friends are all excellent candidates.
Parents whose children have not been singled out for the same recognition generally are not.
“When you’re talking to a mom whose kid is in the same grade, you have to realize that (there’s an implied comparison), so that’s automatically … socially awkward,” Slaton says.
“We are (all) thrilled with our children — every mom feels that way, which is why you sort of have to put a lid on it so you don’t make another mom feeling like you’re saying, ‘My child is better than yours.’ You just don’t want to say that to another mom. It’s painful and hurtful.”
Grolnick, author of “Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child” (Prometheus), says that it may be useful to check your intentions before you launch into the news.
“Are you reacting to another person’s bragging? Are you annoyed?” Grolnick asked. “That’s probably not (a good time) to get it out because you will feel bad and you’ll make the other person feel bad.”
If, on the other hand, you’re talking to a friend or relative with whom you share your child’s setbacks as well as her successes, or a relative who sees the child’s victories as to some extent his or her own, feel free to coo a little.
The quality of the honor your kid is receiving should also enter into your calculations, according to sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman, author of the upcoming book “Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.”
“One of the things that’s occurred is what I call ‘the carving up of honor.’ We have all these awards that are given to kids these days so we (can) say, ‘My child won! My child’s the champion!’ But in reality what they won is some very small broken-down category like, they won for roller skating for 4-year-olds who have only been roller skating for three weeks.”
Broadcasting these smaller awards can make the parent look silly and put undue pressure on children, Levey Friedman says.
“If it’s a real, meaningful accomplishment it’s not a bad thing to share that news with other people and for the child to celebrate that with their family members, perhaps with their friends,” she says.
Parents today are more anxious about the economy and their children’s futures than their predecessors, says University of Pennsylvania sociology professor Annette Lareau, and that can complicate the bragging versus sharing issue.
But she also points out that talking about your child’s extracurriculars is an effective networking strategy.
“It takes a lot of informal knowledge to have your kids in organized activities,” she says. You need to know about sign-up dates, carpool opportunities and how competitive, challenging or welcoming an activity will be.
“Mothers are very dependent on other mothers to share information,” Lareau says.
Grolnick adds that there’s even such a thing as sharing too little information about your child’s triumphs.
“The problem comes in when you want to share something and you feel you shouldn’t because that’s going to be bragging, and you sit on it and don’t get to have that connection with people.”
If a parent can’t stop telling you how great his or her kid is, try a little empathy, says Clark University’s Grolnick. Ask yourself what this person might be going through emotionally that would explain the intense focus on her child’s achievements, and remind yourself that nothing the other parent says has anything to do with you or your child.
A parent probably won’t thank you for telling them to stop bragging, Grolnick notes, but you may want to consider limiting your exposure to repeat offenders:
“I always say, don’t stand by the sidelines with a bragging person at the soccer game. Why do that to yourself?”