(BLACKAMERICAWEB) School is back in session. Does your child get great grades or do they struggle to stay motivated because they are struggling to do well? As a parent, one of the best things you can do is boost your kid’s confidence so they persevere through disappointing test scores or flat-out bad grades. Research shows that kids who fall into certain traps when explaining bad events, such as a failed test or poor grade, are more likely to give up and stop trying to do better. It’s called explanatory style, a term coined by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman. You, as a parent, can help boost their confidence by paying attention to what your kids say after they’ve failed at something – and encouraging them to change their explanatory style.
Doing so will boost their confidence, and ultimately, their performance.
There are three signs to look for in how your children explain why something didn’t go well – whether a test, a game, or even a spat with a friend. Think back to the last time your child didn’t do well at something. Did their explanation reflect any of these three pitfalls?
1. It’s Personal: It’s me. It’s all my fault!
Kids (and even adults!) who blame themselves entirely for their failures without pinpointing some of the changeable circumstances that contributed to the failure are less motivated to try harder – and they are more likely to have low self-esteem. “I’m stupid, that’s why I got a D on the test” is a personal explanation. “I didn’t study much, the teacher didn’t explain the material well and I was hungry because I skipped breakfast” are external explanations. And they are all things you can do something about the next time around.
2. It’s Permanent: I never do well on tests. I always screw up.
If you’re child uses “always” and “never” to explain a failure, boost their confidence by helping them remember a time when the opposite was true. “What about the English test you did well on last week? You didn’t mess up on that.” Help them see failures and mistakes as temporary situations that offer life lessons. When they use words such as “always” and “never,” get them to change those words to “sometimes” and “lately.”
3. It’s Pervasive: I can’t do anything right. Everything I do goes wrong.
Lastly, teach your kids to see failure as a specific event so that a loss of confidence at school doesn’t spill over into other areas of life. Every kid has different strengths. As a culture, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on grades. In the real world, there are kids who drop out of college (ever heard of Bill Gates?) who are immensely talented, but just not in the ways measured by traditional academia. Discover your child’s strengths and celebrate them. Help them do well at school, but also make a big deal out of what they do well (music, leadership, sports, making friends) outside the classroom.
Valorie Burton is the author of several books, including Why Not You? 28 Days to Authentic Confidence. She is Executive Director of The Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute. Subscribe to her FREE inspirational e-newsletter at ValorieBurton.com.