You have a prodigy, so I am hoping you can help. I have a very talented 11 yr-old son who snowboards. He rose quickly in ability and impressed a lot of coaches 2 seasons ago, but spent this entire past season being upset/frustrated about goals not attained. I’m wondering how to best help him strive for his goals but still be able to experience that pure joy. Thank you!
On the flight to the national competition that my youngest son, Oliver Aldort, won (at age 13), I said to him, “You know you already won with me by being you.” “I know, I know, Mom,” he responded impatiently, “It makes no different to you if I win any competition. You love me no matter what.”
Later, at the hotel, I asked him, “So when you go in to the room with the judges, how do you feel and what is your intent?” His response sums the secret of success. He said, “I go in to win and then whatever happens is fine with me.”
The reason Oliver was both intent on success, yet at peace with any outcome, is that his identity and sense of worth were not attached to his musical achievement as a cellist.
In Mothering Issue #71, an article of mine was published called, Getting Out of The Way. You can read it here: http://naomialdort.com/articles3.html ; it will help you understand how to support your son sense of himself by disengaging from his achievements. You can also read the follow up three articles, “The Price of Praise,” in Life Learning Magazine, http://www.lifelearningmagazine.com/.
If your son goes to school, he is learning to live up to expectations and to feel worthy based on grades and evaluations instead of looking inside of himself. If you also praise him at home, he is learning to confuse his worth with his achievements. He is then upset any time he is not the best because he feels as though he failed as a human being.
To help your son see his unconditional worth, you must get out of his way. Avoid celebrating good grades, praising or making a fuss over sports achievements. If he goes to school, your own unconditional love may not create a great change in the present. But long term, he will eventually realize that your love and his worth have nothing to do with his talent or achievement.
I recommend that you actually tell him that it makes no difference to you if he does sports, if he is good at it or at anything, or what grades he gets. Avoid praising or rewarding, not only him, but anyone else in his presence. Say, “thank you” when he helps or contributes, give factual feedback if he asks for it, and when he achieve something, join his happiness but don’t try to generate it and don’t dramatize beyond his own expression. You join his joy; you don’t evaluate his achievement. For you it makes no difference. Most importantly, express your love and appreciation of your son in no relationship to achievement, especially when he doesn’t do or behave so well and when he doubts himself.
It is unfortunate that his teachers use praise to manipulate students’ emotions. Do your best to undo that by telling your son often that it really makes no difference what he does, because who he is, is already complete and worthy.
Warmly, Naomi Aldort, www.AuthenticParent.com