Last week I wrote about ‘praise’ - this week, I’d like to deal with it’s cousin ‘expectation’.
That voice that comes from inside us, telling us not to even bother trying, because we’re just no good at it; telling us we are and always have been hopeless at maths, spelling, art or whatever - that voice came from somewhere.
I bet that if you relate to that, you also know where and when that voice started for you. You know which teacher told you you couldn’t draw, which test you failed or what event exposed your weakness.
I’ve worked with children of primary school age who are so used to being told off (I suspect at home as well as in class) that you can see their negative self-image already taking a firm hold - despite their youth. They are learning to write themselves off as no-hopers, always in trouble, no prospects. It’s even more prevalent in secondary, and it can be a difficult pattern to break.
I do believe that (and there is research to back this up) if you make it clear that you expect great things of children and young people, they will be much more likely to rise to that expectation. There are aspirational seeds in all of us, and each one will stand a chance of growing until that particular hope or dream is dashed.
However in the effort to nurture our children by letting them know that we believe in the best of them, we must be careful not to lay on too much pressure. If we become like the father whose response to his little girl’s excitement at coming second in class is to coldly demand, “Come and tell me when you come top”, then we may inadvertently be engendering exactly the opposite reaction to the increased striving and self-belief we were hoping for.
It can be a tricky balancing act, but it becomes easier when we apply the secret weapon that has the power to save us all from the potentially detrimental effects of the stress of perfectionism: love.