Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Please Try Again
Sometimes companies use the marketing strategy of offering the possibility, in addition to enjoying their fine products, of actually winning additional prizes. The prize offerings are often in the form of financial winnings, but may include the lure of exotic vacations or new cars. I don't buy products just because they offer the potential for prizes, but if it's something I would buy anyway I certainly take the time to read the bottle top, box flap, or inside the bag to see if I've won anything. (So far, nothing, but I'm only middle-aged so I guess it could still happen!) Usually, my message reads something like, "Please try again" or "There are many chances to win" (insert here, but you probably won't) so...please try again. It doesn't surprise me when I don't win, since the odds are against it and it's not like I'm trying day after day to strive for a prize. One day, though, I was feeling a little discouraged and opened a wrapper without realizing it was one of those "might win a prize" wrappers. When I read, "SORRY YOU DIDN'T WIN!" it was like an unexpected dig. "Wait a minute!" I cried out in my mind. "I wasn't even trying to win that time!" In my discouragement the message translated into "SORRY YOU ARE A LOSER! AGAIN! AND PROBABLY ALWAYS WILL BE!" Gee, and I just wanted a little treat.
I started thinking about the messages we communicate, and how our struggling learners might be translating them. I might say, "That was a good try" and my child might mentally translate that into, "I did it wrong again". I can see how easily my own perfectionist tendencies might be perceived by my children as "Nothing is ever quite good enough." I can say, "Let's keep working on this" and "Work hard and do your best", but depending on the child's temperament and interpretation of my tone of voice it might be perceived as criticism rather than encouragement. For most of us, we can shrug off those "You are a loser" messages and get on with life. For those with learning disabilities who struggle, day after day, with tasks that are unavoidable and reoccurring, it is harder to ignore and resist that message. Day after day, they struggle to complete work. A math fact or phonics rule they "knew" yesterday eludes them today. They do not know why, they cannot explain it, yet they experience the frustration of having material seemingly evaporate before they can nail it down. So they start the learning process over, or repeat work that in their minds they believe they should already know. They notice that other people seem to have it much easier, and even when no one else says it they draw the conclusion "I am not a winner". Every day, it's like they are opening the wrapper or bottle to see if today they will be a winner. Over time, resignation sets in along with the belief that winning is for someone else.
There are no easy answers here. I have no quick fix to offer, or sure-fire rapid remedy to make your child feel like a winner. Every child is different, as are teachers, parents and families. What I can offer is more of a life strategy, a paradigm shift that views struggles as a part of life. I shared my own struggles with my children (at age-appropriate levels) and taught them that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some are more visible than others, but the fact is that we all need others who are strong where we are weak. Likewise, we all have something to offer. I believe that beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I shared that belief over and over with my children. I made it a point to focus on the whole child, not just the academic areas and disabilities and differences. Despite the diagnosis, I would not allow my children to use it as an excuse for not developing good character traits or not doing as much as they were able to. Are some things harder for you than others? Do you sometimes feel like you are a loser? Sure. Does that feeling make it true? Absolutely not. Speak the truth to your children, boldly and repeatedly. Say it out loud so they can hear your own mental battle resolve. It might sound something like this: "I sure have a hard time doing this, and other people make it look easy. Sometimes I feel like a loser. But you know what? I'm not! Even though I might feel like a loser, I know I have a lot to offer. Nobody is good at everything and I'm not, either. But that doesn't make me a loser." By talking it through, your children are learning from you. They will see how you acknowledge an emotion and tackle a thought that is not healthy or true. Over time, they will learn how to battle the "I am a loser" notion with the truth that they are individuals with great worth and value in many ways. Next time you get the message "SORRY YOU DIDN'T WIN!" think about translating that into a message that reflects gratitude and appreciation for all you have to offer. Be resilient and teach your children to be resilient. Don't fall for the "You are a loser" message. The next time you are faced with a challenge, "Please Try Again", because there truly are many chances to win.