Teaching Every Child That There’s Always Room for Improvement
I spent the lion’s share of last Saturday watching little boys play baseball. I’ve become a sports mom, whether I like it or not. I have my folding lawn chair, my sunscreen and bug spray always in the car, because I can be found on any given evening sitting on the sidelines of a sports field, swatting flies and yelling encouragement.
I sat next to two very loud and vocal mothers, who had comments for every single child that stepped up to the plate. They were probably the most encouraging people I had ever heard. They seemed to be having a contest between them to see who could yell the most compliments. The little boys were noticing their words, and were likely buoyed by their encouragement.
I’ve noticed this summer more than I have before, that parents yell a lot of compliments. All the time. For everything. The favourite compliment for our kids seems to be, “Awesome job, buddy!”
The word, “awesome” is ubiquitous in our parental vocabulary.
“Awesome swing, bud!”
“That was an awesome throw!”
“Awesome cut, man!”
I watched as kid after kid got told that their effort was awesome, amazing, great or some other equal superlative.
I started to realize that children don’t really know what awesome is, because everything is awesome. They have no sense of working toward awesomeness.
There was one boy in particular that had a ball lobbed to him rainbow-style over his head. He chopped at the ball tomahawk-style and nearly fell over. Had he not flailed about as he did, he would have been hit in the head with the ball. The pitcher was told, “Good pitch, buddy!”. As the little batter collected himself, he was told, “GREAT CUT! THAT’S THE WAY TO SWING!!”
I’m no baseball expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s definitely not the way to swing.
So how does that little boy know when he has made the right swing? After all, all of his swings are awesome.
Children today, the Generation Z kids, are being raised by Generation X, who are dedicated to ensuring that their children have everything and are involved in everything. They teach their children that no one is above anyone, and that you are awesome just for being you.
That’s true, of course, because as a creation of God, we are all awesome. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. We are all beautiful, and we all are talented at something.
But not all of us can bat.
My children have a gazillion medals at home. They’ve only been in our family for four years, yet I already find myself searching Pinterest for ways to display trophies and medals. There have been seasons where one of them will have not scored at all, been on a team that has never won a game, and yet they have taken home a trophy or medal.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouraging kids. It’s my life calling, actually. However, encouraging kids is not just saying what’s good, but letting them know in a positive way the places where improvements can be made. If everything is awesome, then how do we ever know when we have really achieved anything great? Where is the goal to attain? How do we ever have something to reach for if we are always already there?
Further, how does a child know to respect someone who is in authority over them (like I dunno, say, God, for instance) if they are constantly told that they are the best, that the awesome one is them.
The reality of life is that we are all a work in progress. The truth about life is that when you are an adult, nobody is going to give you a promotion in your job just because you pulled your butt into work most days and barely got things done. You are not going to be truly awesome at anything when you don’t work hard. Very few of us inherit riches. Most of us have to work for it. Not everyone gets the girl. Sometimes there will be a guy who worked harder to impress her.
Sometimes we have to work hard, fail, be told we’ve failed, and be encouraged to do better.
After all, failure is not really failure. It’s something that helps us do better. The place of failure is where we re-evaluate whether or not this effort is worthwhile for us, and decide from there to do better.
Perhaps when a little kid swings wildly at a rogue ball, they should be told, “You can do it, buddy! Eye on that ball, keep your elbow up, don’t swing at everything!” That’s the kind of encouragement that a little boy or girl needs… to be told through our words that we are there with them, we see them, and they can constantly be working to improve their swing.