No one is good at everything. We all have our strengths, and we all have our weaknesses. Children are no different. Why, then, do so many teachers and parents expect perfection from their children in all areas—straight A’s in school, a star athlete, cast as the lead in the school play, volunteers in the community, plays the piano, etc? Some even go so far as to discipline a child for a weakness, by imposing a punishment if something isn’t up to spar or offering a reward if the child “tries harder.”
Of course, we should have high standards for youth. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Men are born to succeed, not fail.” Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow agreed with this concept when he declared that it is a basic human need to strive toward success and self-actualization.
Unfortunately, when a child brings home a bad grade or a displayed weakness in some other way, many adults focus on the negative rather than on the positive. However, studies show that people make greater improvement when they build on their strengths rather than continually work on their weaknesses. Now, this does not mean we should ignore a child’s weakness. It simply means the emphasis should be on what the child can do rather than what he or she cannot do.
For example, suppose a child is having difficulty with spelling. By all means encourage the child to practice spelling. But instead of only pointing out the misspelled words and telling the child to rewrite them, acknowledge the child for any correctly spelled words, for his or her improved handwriting, or something else that will be the spark that ignites action. Remember, when a child is first learning a skill, it is the successes—not the failures—that encourage perseverance and lead to building character, positive self-talk, and self-esteem.