Good at

We have this thing called good at and another thing called not good at.  Kids learn to assess (or take others’ assessment) of which things they’re good at and which things they’re not.  Does it do them any good, this classifying?  What’s the use of knowing whether or not you’re good at something?  Or having someone’s opinion about whether or not you are?  What comes of it? Here are a couple of internal commentaries that can emerge when you’re oriented around good at and not good at:

“Oh, I’m not good at this, so I might as well not bother.”  This angle could free you up to go about something else that proves more useful, productive, fulfilling, etc., or it could mean that you miss out on something that might have been just as worthwhile.

“Oh, I’m not good at this, but I’d like to be.”  That could inspire you to work at getting better at the thing and you might produce some result with your effort.

“I’m really good at this.  I should keep at it, because it might be useful to get even better.” (This one describes itself.)

“Oh, I’m good at this.  I better not make any mistakes so people don’t start thinking I’m not.”  This one’s really too bad, and often prevents people from realizing opportunities for significant accomplishment and contribution.

Regardless, how you conceive of what it means to be good at something or not good at something makes a difference.  It has an impact on how you proceed once you have deemed yourself (or someone else has deemed you) good or not good.  This is worth keeping in mind as you watch and support children in their growth and exploration.  Each time you issue to a child a declaration like “you’re really good at that” you’re inviting a particular kind of relationship to the thing, just as you probably already realize you do if you say “you’re not that good at that.” (It bears mentioning that while mindful parents tend to refrain from telling their kids they’re not good at things, they often don’t set the same moratorium on declaring themselves not good at things, which sets as much of a stage for a complicated relationship with good and not good as any.)

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t tell kids they’re good at things.  I just think it’s worth experimenting with how we respond to what they do and the progress they make.  What if our feedback weren’t reliant on good/not good?  What would it be like to grow up in a world where you were just doing what you were doing, getting the results you were getting, free of judgment?  Would it mean that no one got anything done, that no progress was ever made?

Perhaps.  Or maybe we’d be more at ease with our pursuits – maybe we’d free ourselves up to do even stronger work than we are able to do while in the throes of good and not.  Most likely, it’d be some of each.

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