Imagine a scenario, where you are an athlete, a runner and you have a coach who is giving you some last minute instructions before the race starts. Which set of instructions are likely to help you?
“Be attentive to all those around you, there are superior runners here. Some have won many such races in the past. They are medalists. Be very attentive to the whistle. Don’t miss it.”
“You have practiced what you could, now enjoy the run. Run freely with your whole mind and body. Don’t worry. Give your best.”
Maybe on scanning briefly we may find the second or sometimes even the first set of instructions appealing. However, we can truly answer which set of instructions is better, when we try to decipher the unsaid messages that underlie both these instructions.
Let us analyze these messages:
The first set of instructions says this is not a very favourable scenario, its one you have to be fearful of. There are people here better than you-you can be inadequate–you need to prove yourself. You are likely to pay less attention to the whistle-you are inattentive.
What now does the second set of instructions say? Run as well as YOU can- YOU are adequate. How much better or worse others may be is inconsequential. Enjoy yourself-you have a right to have fun– you don’t have to prove yourself worthy in order to have fun. You don’t deserve to fret or worry.
In the light of the above then, who is likely to enjoy what he is doing? Clearly the one who receives and believes the second set of instructions. Over a period of time only people who enjoy what they do and who feel adequate can continue to perform consistently and even improve. The ones who fear situations and feel the need to keep proving themselves worthy may run several races and may even win at times, but they would not be able to enjoy themselves. They may get exhausted trying to live up to heir own and others expectations, which may lead to disinterest or declining performance.
How does this apply to parents?
Consider the above example in the context of being parents. We want our children to achieve, to do well, to get enough marks, to make a decent living, to excel at sports. We want all of this so that they are happy, fulfilled individuals in life. It is a competitive world after all and we do not want our children lagging behind. We love our children too much for that. And that’s only fair! Is it not?
Unfortunately, even as the loving parents that we are, we often give children negative messages without even being conscious of it. On the face of it, these messages are for the well-being of children, for their betterment. However, unknowingly, the same messages may be steering children away from their sense of adequacy and creating low self-esteem in them.
What can be done?
Try to be conscious of your words: The next time you feel like telling your child to attempt the whole answer paper, just before he leaves home for his math exam, remember you are actually telling him that you believe he may not be capable of attempting the whole paper. Instead smiling and asking him to enjoy his exam might help more.
Or the other time that you are frustrated and tell him “you can NEVER get the 13 times table correct”, remember you are the one who is deciding that he will NEVER get it correct.