When I was a kid, my mother would say to me over and over, “You are so smart!” I’m pretty sure my dad did as well. Mom’s intentions were good – she had come from a home situation where she didn’t feel smart or capable and she wanted something different for me. She had no idea that her words were actually causing me to question my own abilities.
If I’m so smart, why can’t I figure out this math problem? I’m not smart at all.
Sometimes I fell into the smart/stupid trap with my eldest, and occasionally it happens with my youngest. It isn’t a matter of smart or dumb – but it is a matter of choosing the right words and attitude.
Nowadays I try to remember to say, “Yes, this is difficult, but with practice, you can do it.”
We are all born with natural inclinations – interests that often drive our talents. Some children gravitate towards drawing and this recent conversation between me and my two daughters illustrates how I am learning to word my opinions:
Emily: Hey sis, I tried to draw a flower like yours on the blackboard.
Danielle: Yes, I see that.
Emily: It isn’t as good as yours.
Danielle: Well, how long have you been drawing? [turns to me] Mom, how much did I draw as a kid?
Me: [roll eyes] If you weren’t drawing you were reading. Trying to get you to do anything else was a fight.
Danielle: See Em?
Me: [smiling at Em] What do you spend your day doing?
Em: [sheepish look] I’m on the computer all day.
Me: Well, if you want to be good at computers, then you are on the right track. If you want to learn how to create art, you may want to do things differently.
The more I understand and see about learning, the more I am convinced that Em can learn whatever she puts her mind to. For that matter, so can I. If it is important enough, I will choose to learn it. If not, I won’t. And that is the message I continue to give to her.
Not a shaming thing – “If you practiced more you would understand it.”
Not a smart/stupid thing – “You had better get a husband and stop worrying your pretty head over that.” Not that anyone would ever hear me say that and believe I was being anything other than sarcastic.
Keep trying. Keep practicing. Be kind to yourself but don’t ever stop trying. Those are the messages I want to tattoo on her heart and mind. That she can be anything she dreams of being, but not for free. Not without effort. If you want it bad enough, and you work hard enough, these things can be yours.