Kids are very smart — they read between the lines of their parents’ actions and words
I have two daughters close in age. One is naturally extremely bright, and gets excellent grades with little effort. The other has to really work hard to get 80s. I make sure to always focus on the effort, not the final result — “I know how hard you studied for this Chumash test, and I’m really proud of this grade!” — but I see her wilt when she brings home an 86, and her sister, who studied for a fraction of the time, got 100. Is there anything else I can do to bolster her? Or is this just a reality she has to learn to live with?
Yes and yes. There’s something more you can do, and she’ll have to learn to live with her situation in life (as we all must!). Kids are very smart — they read between the lines of their parents’ actions and words. Honesty, therefore, is the best approach, and we’ll see below how you can apply it in your interactions with both girls.
As we all have strengths and weaknesses gifted to us from Above, I’m sure your average student daughter naturally shines in some areas, and your gifted daughter has some weak spots. None of us has to feel bad for our inborn deficiencies nor should we feel special for our inborn gifts and talents. It’s what we do with what we’ve been given that matters. The question is: how can parents successfully convey these concepts to their children?
This is where the honesty comes in. You said you see your average student daughter wilt when her sister sports a perfect grade with no effort. You try to encourage her by praising her effort, which is normally a helpful strategy. However, it does nothing to address the visible “wilt.” Instead, you might say something like, “It’s hard to see your sister get 100 with no effort while you have to work so hard for your 86.” Your daughter would feel seen, acknowledged, and accepted, because she knows her parents accept her and her feelings as they are. You don’t need her to feel proud of her 86 or pleased with her efforts; you’re fine with her feeling as she does feel — wilted.
I’d like to return to your statement to your daughter that you’re proud of her because of her effort. I believe that pride and the sense of accomplishment belongs to the student, not to the parent. She might be proud of herself or, as it seems in her case, disappointed with herself. Again, closer to home and closer to the truth would be a statement such as, “You worked so hard and still got a lower mark than your sister. I can see you’re disappointed.” If she agrees and then goes on to complain that it isn’t fair that she has to work so much harder, you can acknowledge that feeling, too. You might say something like, “Yes, it can feel that way.” And then, after acknowledging what is going on in her heart, you can then offer a bit of education about the fact that we’re all in the same boat, each one of us finding some things harder and easier (as described above).
When parents accept their child’s feelings and have the courage to simply reflect them without needing the child to be happy or feel good at every moment, they’re offering the most supportive form of support. Just allow your daughter to be frustrated and unhappy about her situation and, oddly enough, this will help release those feelings and leave her with a deep sense of security and personal value. As you accept her feelings, you’re accepting her and this is what helps her accept herself. And this is exactly what you wanted for her in the first place — an inner peace, confidence, and happiness.
Finally, a note about how you might show acceptance to the happy-go-lucky gifted student. When she comes home with her 100, you might say, “That’s a very good mark! It’s wonderful to enjoy the blessings that Hashem gives us, isn’t it?” You’re fine with her being who she is, too, and acknowledging the gift that Hashem has given her. Academics aren’t her realm of challenge, but when she does encounter challenge, you’ll be just as accepting.
In this way, you can help both your daughters become comfortable with who they are.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 832)
Oops! We could not locate your form.