In today’s schools, kids live in an environment of consistent scrutiny and competition when it comes to learning. They are over tested, overworked, overscheduled and overstressed; and it goes on for nearly 20 years with the additions of preschool and college. We are asking a lot of young people and forcing them into a system that thrives on being the best and rarely celebrates just having fun or being happy (how can you fit that on a grading rubric after all).
In many ways, we tend to value making the grade more then we value creating an experience or expanding a mind. My youngest, who is in 5th grade, recently brought home an art project he was rather thrilled about creating over a 4 week period. It was a rendering of a large castle that was set in the Legend of Zelda world, complete with 57 tiny Link characters that were each doing something different; from playing music to storming the castle walls. It was clear he put a lot of thought and effort into this and, although it was not perfect, you could tell by all the detail he had some sort of story playing out in his mind while creating the drawing. The project fell short of the criteria stated on the rubric (he colored a bit out of the lines, didn’t get the asymmetry exactly right and did not use enough color image blending) and at the bottom of the grade sheet, his teacher wrote the following:
“You had such great ideas at the beginning, I just wish yourself have taken more care and had more craftsmanship :/”
The emoji that denotes disappointment was included in her message; it was a form of shaming (and not the first time I have seen or heard it over the years from educators and other influences in my children’s lives). It seems our children are engulfed in a culture that celebrates adherence to the guidelines over creativity and imagination; using “could” and “would” shaming instead of factual examples and specific steps for improvement. When even an elementary school art class is making kids feel judged and is using a restrictive grading rubric, it’s time to ask “what are we actually teaching our kids?”. For my son, he said he loved his picture, but when he read his teacher’s comments he felt stupid; he learned that in some way he is maybe not good enough unless he adheres to the rubric. He went from joy to zero with that one sentence; and this type of educating happens every single day.
While there are many aspects of going to school that can be wonderful for children, the stress created from the success driven culture can outweigh them. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to focus on just being a kid or adolescent who is discovering their identity, when you are drowning in hours of homework, constant testing, and tons of extra activities. Kids are pushed and pushed to achieve, improve and to be a success; but at what cost? Self-esteem is often the main victim, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
In life, our kids will face these same environments long after school has ended; whether it’s the workplace, their own business or with their own families some day. The nature of our world is fraught with stressors, so giving our children the tools to develop a strong sense of self will help them overcome and rise above the noise of it all. Parents (or any caretakers) are an incredible influence; how we behave teaches kids more then anything ever will. Consciously leading by example with our own behavior will make a lasting impact and can guide our children to unshakable self-esteem; the kind which ensures that even when stress becomes overwhelming they can talk about it and seek ways to change and help themselves. Here are 3 ways mindful examples that create enlightened kids.
1. Be self-loving:
Self-love sets the tone for all aspects of our lives. Taking excellent care of our health, making time for leisure and relaxation, allowing ourselves to do thing we truly enjoy (like hobbies) and speaking positively about ourselves are all important factors that create positivity in life, and they are also impactful examples our children watch. Creating homes filled with overbooked schedules, chaos and stress from constant “busy-ness” will diminish self-care, lead to health issues and teach kids that it is okay to neglect your health and well-being. In turn, kids become even more affected by what happens in the world outside their home. Striving for balance in life is one of the greatest tools we can show and teach our children. Create a schedule that demonstrates the importance of equivalence with work, play and rest. Say “no” to activities that merely fill your calendar without offering real value. Eat healthier foods that don’t come from a box or drive-thru; if you are constantly leaning on convenience over healthy with food choices that is a sure sign you are overbooked. Self-care is the cornerstone for self-esteem and self-confidence; the kind that can handle the pressures of daily life and understand that test scores do not determine worthiness.
2. Accept failure:
With so much attention given to achievement, our children receive very conflicting messages about success and failure. Constant evaluation and testing puts less emphasis on learning and more focus on results. The truth is, we will fail more than we succeed in life; it’s simply part of the journey and an ever present factor of learning and development. Modeling this for children is important, not only in reaction to their moments of not succeeding, but in reaction to our own. Accepting that along the way we will not always achieve every single goal, that mistakes are valuable teachers and that effort is what really educates us is a vital lesson for fostering fearless creativity. Long after graduation ceremonies, our children will seek learning for the simple reward of trying something new and developing their interests. Showing them the absolute joy in this by doing it in our own lives will create life long learners who pursue, without hesitation, the things that make them happy; and in turn this creates more joy in our world, one person at a time.
3. Celebrate effort:
Having success in achieving our goals is nice, but a focus on achievement sometimes leads to overlooking the effort given (whether a goal was met or not). It’s great to celebrate the result, but we also need to give attention to the effort, no matter what the result. Our system of educational grading puts intense emphasis on meeting a narrow set of measures to determine success, without really accounting for the actual effort and a lot of the learning that takes place. Teaching our children to also focus on their efforts, not just on their results, will create the desire to consistently pursue endeavors simply for the joy of trying, instead of the need to compete or achieve a certain set of standards. The more we allow ourselves the opportunities to try new things and pursue what interests us, the more we model the celebration of effort to our children. Self-worth tied to achieving a certain result, like a grade, can lead to stress, anxiety and continual disappointments. Self-worth tied to self-love fosters self-improvement, and a desire to continually be and do better because it brings you joy; not just to make the grade.