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When high-achieving kids suddenly struggle with a class, their world can come undone. Here are some tips to help them keep some perspective.
1. Unconditional love. Always separate the “doer” from the “deed” whether it’s behavior, academics, or achievement. Children need to know they are loved for who they are, not for what they do. Our love for them is not contingent on being the best reader in the class, winning the spelling bee, or hitting a home run. We give our love, not based on their performance, but on the relationship we have developed with them: trust, acceptance, and respect regardless of the circumstances.
2. Non-compete clause. Children should not be compared to others or judged on how well they out-perform someone else. A youngster should be compared to his or her own efforts and outcomes. A child’s worthiness should not be measured against someone else’s performance. If they are doing the best they can, with what they’ve got, at that point in time, we cannot ask for more, regardless of the outcome.
3. Practice, practice. The emphasis should be placed on effort; doing the best you can. One step at a time, no matter how small, is to be commended. The more we do, the better we become. Point out how much better they perform each time they practice. Offer recognition for improvement.
4. Having an “off day.” Keep things in perspective and remember: This too shall pass. Give recognition to the fact that we all have times when we do not do as well as we have done before. This is a good opportunity to discuss how we learn from mistakes and how we find ways to do better. Improvement involves learning what to do and what not to do. Remember when your youngster learned to tie a shoe, ride a bike, read a book? These skills take time and practice.
5. Self-confidence. Developing positive self-talk is important. Children need to internalize the belief that they are self-sufficient and resilient when faced with self-doubt. Realistically recall and discuss their accomplishments; point out that this is truly an exception to their usual performance. Also talk about incidents which did not turn out well; point out how disappointed they were, but they survived and went on to do well again.
6. Self-esteem. Children need to have positive socialization with their peers. Their sole identity and badge of success within the classroom environment should not be based exclusively on being perfect every time. True friendship is based on who we are, not what we can do for others. Children need to believe they are liked for themselves and not feel pressured to live up to their reputation to gain acceptance by their peers.
Reinforcing these concepts with your children will help ease the pain and disappointment when they don’t measure up to their usual performance.
Valerie Allen, Ed.D., NCSP, is a child psychologist in private practice and the author of two children’s books, Summer School for Smarties and Bad Hair, Good Hat, New Friends.