Though I am not a fan of the rhetorical question, especially since Carrie overused it on Sex and the City, I have one of my own. Except I really want to know the answer.
How do you build your child’s faltering self-esteem without coddling him?
Medium is having a tough time these days. First grade has been a difficult year for him, what with the SATs and the college admissions process and all. What? Oh, that’s later?
The principal called me once at the beginning of the year for a minor infraction at school. Apparently Medium told a classmate “I’m gonna kill you,” the way 1st graders do. But this is 2012 so the administration must take everything seriously, and I don’t blame them. They handled it professionally, but I am happy that we were able to resolve the situation through meaningful conversation.
The second time he called went like this:
Principal: “Mrs. BoyMommy? It’s Mr. Assistant Principal at school. How are you today?”
Me: “Uh oh. What happened now?”
Principal: chuckles. “Not every phone call from me is going to be bad news!”
Me: “Okay. Then why are you calling me?”
Principal: “Well . . . “
And so it goes. Medium is a bright, curious, creative child, and Hubby and I have tried very hard to encourage him in areas where he can excel. The problem is, if he thinks he won’t excel, he won’t even try. For instance, he was invited to a sports-themed birthday party last week, but he was apprehensive about going because “they’re all gonna be playing games and they keep score.” I reminded him that his classmate invited Medium to his party because he likes him for him, not because he’s good or bad at sports. He just wanted Medium to help him celebrate his big day. When I went to pick up, however, the mom expressed concern that he didn’t have a good time because he didn’t want to play any of the games. What a fun kid to invite to your party!
He possesses natural athletic ability. He’s fast and agile and strong. Obviously he gets all these qualities from me. And maybe a little bit from my athletic husband. My point is that it’s not like he’s making a fool of himself on the ball field. He can hold his own, but if there’s any risk of failure, he won’t even start.
Hubby and I realize it is our job to help him find his niche, and we’ve never, in ALL our years of parenting school-aged children, pressured the boys to be straight-A students. We want them to enjoy going to school, to be curious about their environment, and to build lasting relationships with their peers. So it’s not as if he’s getting a lot of pressure at home to be perfect. It breaks my heart when he comes home and tells me “I’m the worst student” because he’s struggling with math, or spelling, or reading, or writing. I’ve tried explaining that we can’t all be good at everything; I can’t balance a checkbook and Daddy isn’t crafty, but it seems that he feels he’s good at nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of the let’s-give-everyone-a-trophy philosophy either. (And not just because I can’t stand having dust-catchers around OR because THIS 4-foot monstrosity is still taking up space in my home.)
|"YOU get a trophy! And YOU get a trophy! And . . . "|
In life, there are winners and there are losers. Sometimes life’s not fair. How else can one explain why good people get sick while Charles Manson rots away in prison? It’s NOT fair; it’s just the way life works. I know this is a life lesson that Medium must learn and that it’s our responsibility to guide him through it, but I’d like him to learn it with minimal therapy.
How do we help him feel good about himself and all he brings to our family without being unrealistic about his abilities? How do we explain to a seven-year-old that his worth and his value do not come from a scoreboard or a report card or a blue ribbon? I’ve been there - I have been the child who never gets picked for the team, or who never scores a goal, or who loses the election. I know what it’s like to never feel like you’re the best at . . . well, anything. And that’s okay. We can’t all be rock stars. I just wish he’d relax and go with the flow, man. I want him to enjoy playing the game for the sake of having fun . . . instead of feeling like he’s the worst just because he’s not the best.