Conscientiousness and a drive to excel are positive qualities through which a person can make great strides. But not everyone who works hard in school is an A student. Not everyone who aspires to the lead role in the school play gets the part. Not every qualified applicant to a given college gets admitted. In your child’s quest to excel, how can you and she manage the disappointments that may occur along the way?
As you talk to your youngster about competition, there are many factors to consider: What does “the best” mean and who determines this? Are the terms winner and best synonymous? How do you and your child define success?
To help your child weather her disappointments, offer her a balanced perspective. Let’s say, for example, that she is a college student who has earned a B instead of an A in a certain course. She might erroneously conclude that she does not belong in such an advanced curriculum or, even more unfairly, that she is “stupid.”
Actually, there are any number of possible reasons why she has received a B, some of them having little to do with her intellect or with her potential for success. Like most people, she is probably stronger in some areas than in others, and she might look on her grades as one of many clues that show where her true talents lie.
It is wise to reinforce your child not only for her progress in learning a skill but also for her inner qualities. Observe and point out her positive characteristics on a regular basis. Here are just a few examples of praiseworthy behaviors: offering her opinion, standing up for herself, accepting a compliment, taking a break from baseball practice when she feels tired, prioritizing, and rationing her energy instead of approaching everything at breakneck speed.
David B. Herzog, M.D., Debra L. Franko, Ph.D., Pat Cable, RN
David B. Herzog, M.D., is the Harvard Medical School Endowed Professor of psychiatry in the field of eating disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and the director of the Harris Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Debra L. Franko, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology at Northeastern University and the associate director of the Harris Center at Massachusetts General Hospital
Pat Cable, RN, is the director of publications at the Harris Center.