When their hearts break, our hearts break. It’s one of the excruciating mysteries and blessings of being a parent.
We love our kids, and know just how amazing they really are. So when one of our kids is feeling inadequate or discouraged, we want desperately to fix the hurt.
It’s not easy knowing the right thing to say or do. And even when we have a good idea of what to say, it’s not always a quick fix. Just like the adults who love them, kids sometimes need time to process the insecurities and disappointments of life.
That said, here are some ways you can encourage a child who is feeling bad after comparing himself or herself to peers at school and coming up short.
- Ask questions. If you child makes a statement like “I’m dumb” or “Nobody likes me” or “I can’t do anything right,” it’s tempting to rush into countering that statement, but consider taking a few moments and asking your child why he or she feels that way. Ask for specific examples. It may give you insights into how to better respond.
- Explore famously successful failures. Talk with your child about people who experienced great failures in life, and yet went on to accomplish amazing, innovative things. Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four and was even expelled from school. Abraham Lincoln experienced failures in the military, business, and politics. Stephen Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theatre three times. Elvis Presley was told by an influential person in the music industry, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” Here’s an interesting website listing 50 famously successful people who failed at first that you and your child might enjoy reading together.
- Don’t believe everything you hear. Did someone say something demeaning to your child? Talk with your child about the spectrum of motives that can drive someone to say something demeaning. The truth is, people say things for lots of reasons, including jealousy, ignorance, the need to elevate themselves, the fact that misery loves company. Can your child come up with other motives? The point is, not everything that comes out of the mouths of others is true or motivated by truth, so allowing ourselves to define ourselves by what other people say is a really bad idea. We can’t control what other people say or think, but we can be diligent gatekeeper of what we receive and internalize. Together can you and your child come up with a list of more reliable indicators of who we are and our true value?
- Don’t believe everything you think. Just as it’s important to learn how to evaluate what other people say about us and reject what isn’t true, we have to do the same with what we find ourselves thinking about ourselves. What are some common lies people believe about themselves? Consider sharing with your child an experience you’ve had with believing a lie about yourself, and how you came to recognize the lie and embrace the truth instead.
- Substantiate your praise. When a kid says something like, “I’m stupid,” it’s easy to shoot back with a 180 degree statement like, “You’re not stupid,” or “Don’t say that; you’re very smart.” But don’t stop there. It doesn’t help to simply say the opposite of what your child just said without explaining why. Give specific examples of why you something other than what your child is expressing.
- Find and develop your child’s strengths and gifts. No one can be great at everything, but everyone can be great at something. Make sure to expose your child to lots of opportunities to discover something he or she is passionate about (because what we’re passionate about, we tend to also become skilled at doing). Knitting? Frisbee golf? Volunteering in the community? Sketching? Electronics? Singing? Horseback riding? Doing random acts of kindness? Being the family “barista” and making the best coffee drinks in the house? Baking cookies? Training the family dog? Knowing we are good at something—whatever that is—is a confidence builder that can keep us from defining ourselves (and feeling crushed by) life’s inevitable failures and disappointments.
- What are you modeling for your child? Examine your own beliefs about failure. Do you think failure, in your life or in the lives of your spouse or children, is something of which to be ashamed? Or is it a stepping stone to better things? Something to learn from? Even something admirable, a sign that someone is getting out of their comfort zone and trying new things? And while you’re at it, you might want to consider your philosophies regarding confidence, self-esteem, and peer-comparisons in your own life. The point is, are you modeling inadequacies, insecurities, and shame that are similar to what your child is dealing with now? If so, don’t despair. You’re in a great position to model for your child how to rethink limiting beliefs and embrace healthier perspectives instead.
- Separate facts from shame-based interpretations of those facts. Let’s say your child feels “stupid” because he or she failed an exam. Help your child learn how to separate facts from shame-based interpretations of those facts. Fact: Your child failed an exam. Acknowledge the fact. Don’t sugar coat it (“Maybe it won’t impact your final grade”) or deflect blame (“Your teacher must not have presented the information clearly”). Accept the fact, but don’t accept a shame-based interpretation of that fact. The fact that your child failed a test does not say anything about his or her worth as a person. It doesn’t mean she is stupid. It doesn’t mean he is a failure as a student or a person.
- Take an action. Once you separate fact from shame-based interpretations, brainstorm with your child a list of answers to the question, “What can we learn from this experience, and what can we do that will create a different outcome next time?” Make a list of actions your child can take.
- Consider interventions to remove recurring obstacles to learning. If your child is feeling inadequate or discouraged in school, there may very well be a reason that is beyond his or her control. In fact, studies show that 80% of learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are the foundational skills the brain uses to think and learn, and include long- and short-term memory, visual processing, auditory process, and logic & reasoning. Extremely bright kids (and adults, too) can have one or more weak cognitive skills that are making school, work, or life harder than it needs to be. One-on-one brain training is an intervention that identifies weak skills and strengthens them, removing the obstacles and making learning easier. At LearningRx, for typically $200 or less, you can have your child tested and identify any cognitive weaknesses that may be holding him or her back. If cognitive weaknesses are the problem, one-on-one brain training can strengthen those weaknesses in as little as twelve weeks. The improvements can be dramatic, and they are lasting. To learn more about LearningRx brain training, contact a center near you.