I don’t think that comparisons are always a bad thing. Comparisons can give us accurate perceptions about our strengths and weaknesses, and insights into our character. Natalie, learnt a tremendous amount through comparing herself to her friend. Let me explain by sharing this story.
Natalie’s friend Isabella was chosen for the state netball team. Natalie and Isabella used to play netball together. They were both on the same team and had the same level of talent. They were both good, but neither was great. Natalie got bored with the sport and dropped out, while Isabella continued, training three times a week and setting her sights on making the state team.
When Isabella announced that she had made the team Natalie was surprised, because she considered herself to have the same skill level as her friend. What she failed to recognise was that, through determination and hard work, Isabella’s skill level had improved dramatically. This opened up a discussion between Natalie and her mum about talent, and the impact that effort has on talent.
When Isabella was recognised at school, the teachers did a great job of celebrating Isabella’s effort rather than her achievement. It is great to see teachers explain in detail and celebrate the effort behind achievements. In Isabella’s case they said, ‘Isabella gets up at six o’clock in the morning, and then sometimes goes back to training in the afternoon. She does that three times a week, even when she is tired. Last week all that effort paid off when she got into the state netball team.’
It’s critical that we reward effort and not just achievement, as this builds accurate self-awareness. I’m all for giving rewards and singling children out who work hard. Real life rewards hard work applied to talent, and so should we. As Louise Klar, student counsellor says, ‘The kid that wins has usually worked really hard. We don’t need to take that away from him by giving everyone a participation certificate. Instead we need to explain why they are receiving the award and make each award meaningful.’
This can also be applied to discussions about our children’s appearances. As beautiful or handsome as they are, they didn’t earn their good looks. They were born with them. Unfortunately, children who are praised for things they haven’t earned don’t always feel legitimately valued. Please, tell your children they are smart, courageous or strong, and don’t put all their focus on their looks.
Almost every child has, at some point, received an award that holds little meaning. As a result, their certificate either sits in the bottom of their school bag or goes straight in the bin. I saw a child receive an award for getting a haircut once – a haircut! Another boy I knew got a ‘player of the week’ award when he wasn’t even at the match! It seemed his coach had just set up a roster that automated awards each week.
I would love for each of our children to be recognised and praised for their effort, knowing that talent + effort go a long way in life! What can you praise your child for today? Meaningful praise can be life changing.
RECOMMENDED READING: For more, check out Michelle’s book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up”.