I see my daughter agonize through school, and I am thankful that she continues to go to school and work hard. When she makes good grades, she beams. But when she makes a bad grade, she is like a different person. I tell her it's all right, but she sulks, won't talk and refuses to talk to her teachers about it. She is hard-working, but one day she is going to find out that working hard doesn't mean you are going to get the good grade or promotion or raise you think you deserve. When she doesn't get it, she will fall apart.
To everyone else, my daughter is an excellent student. Only I know that for her to be excellent, she lives in fear of being anything else.
Speaking up takes courage. Each week I am amazed at the parents who have the courage to write to me about their questions and concerns for their children's education. But parents who summon the courage to express their pain must remember that courage is not easy to come by, particularly for students who live in fear of failure. Consider some familiar refrains:
• "I don't want to speak up in class. If I give the wrong answer, the other kids will laugh at me.
• "If I tell the teacher I don't understand this chapter, she'll just think I'm stupid."
In order to have the courage to speak up, we must all value ourselves. Unfortunately, for far too many children, education is an experience that makes them devalue themselves when students feel they don't measure up to someone else's standards.
Children can easily confuse what they value and desire as a simple cause and effect situation. For example: "If I am a good student, I will make good grades. My parents will love me." Children may turn around that logic to read. "If I don't make good grades, I am a bad student. My parents won't love me.”
As parents, we must help our children develop beyond the overblown concept of self-esteem to build the courage to value themselves, their opinions and their ideas. We must help our children understand that what they desire and value has more than one cause. When they are unable to reach their goal, then they can back up and analyze to determine if there is away over or around the obstacle. In short, self-worth reigns over self-esteem.
WHAT TO DO:
Have your child make a list on a piece of paper divided into three columns beaded ''My Values,” “Reasons,”
MY VALUES: Being a responsible student
REASONS: I am a good student because I attend class regularly. I turn my assignments in on time. I study for quizzes and tests and I am respectful of my teachers.
VARIABLES: I can make the honor roll if the teacher writes test questions in a way I can understand; if I don't get sick and miss the day when the teacher teaches something for the first time; If I pace myself on a test so I have time to finish all the questions.
Help your child understand that some variables may be out of her reach. When they prevent her from having what she values. Then she must decide whether she has the courage to stand up for herself. For example, if your daughter received a low grade because she "blew" an essay question, she must decide whether she has the courage to negotiate with the teacher for a rewrite. Even if she doesn't get the points on the test grade, she will have shown that she has the courage to let her teacher know she can correct her error and the courage to face a situation because she believes in herself.
By helping our children have the courage to stand up for their values, we will help them grow up to become courageous adults who can handle and overcome adversity.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For 30 years, Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been helping children become more successful in school. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework," was published by Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She holds her doctorate in education.