Imagine your 10-year-old daughter is involved in a high-dive competition. She’s past the point of participation trophies and genuinely wants to win. She performs as cleanly as she can, but the judges’ scores are not as high as the other girls. Ultimately, she goes home with nothing and is devastated. How would you respond to her?
A. “Well I thought you were the best of all of those girls.”
B. “It’s OK. We’ll get ’em next time.”
C. “Those girls were better than you, which is why you didn’t win.”
The author of the linked monstrosity says response C is best for future academic success. And I say he’s a sadistic gnat and an idiot who can’t even come with a selection of normal responses to make a point.
My own father would never say such cruel shit to me, and hey, is it even possible to get more academically successful than I’ve been throughout my entire life?
How hard it is to express compassion when somebody is devastated? Isn’t it a much more important lesson to teach than competitiveness (we’ll get ’em! You are the best!) or exhibit callousness (they are better! You stank!)?
The real question to ask here is not how do I turn the situation into a pedagogical exercise at the child’s expense but what does it say about the message I’m sending that she isn’t simply disappointed (a normal reaction) but actually devastated by something so insignificant.
Basic emotional competence is a crucial life skill. And there is no emotional competence when you are incapable of distinguishing between minor setbacks and devastating events.
People are so obsessed with turning kids into productive neoliberal machines who compete and achieve all day long. But a much more useful thing to do would be to raise kids who enjoy life and can relate to others without constantly competing or judging themselves and others.
The response I would give in this situation is, “I’m so sorry you feel sad. I know this must be hard for you. I love you so much.” And this is the response normal people give to anybody who is sad and disappointed, let alone devastated.