"But I'm no good at painting." (spoken with a whine)
"It doesn't matter, just have a go."
"But it'll be rubbish. I know it will."
"Who said you had to be good at it? Do you think at 10 that you should be able to produce a masterpiece? Why would you be able to do that? Nobody else can. Well very few anyway. What you have to understand Small Boy is that most people are pretty rubbish at this sort of thing and it doesn't matter one bit. As long as you get a bit of pleasure out of playing about with paint."
"But I don't know what to paint."
"That's not important either. Just put a bit of paint on the canvas and see what happens. "
"Good grief. What are they teaching kids nowadays? Canvas is the the cloth you use to paint on. Instead of paper. Anyway, just play with the colours and do one of your 'designs'."
So we did.
Why are kids afraid to try something lest they 'not be good at it'? Perhaps in our zeal to encourage our children we overuse a kind of praise which engenders unrealistic expectations. For example:
'What a beautiful picture!" (smiles, fuss, show it to grandma etc)
The child receives the message that approval comes with succeeding at something, with being 'good at it'. But wait! The anxiety! What if next time, their picture/race/performance isn't up to scratch?
What the child really wants when he shows you his painting is interaction; this interaction in itself is sufficient to reinforce for the child that he is loved and valued . Therefore, rather than making a value judgment such as 'wow! that is fantastic!' or 'aren't you clever!', we could simply comment on the painting in a very factual and non-judgmental way. 'You've painted a blue sky and a red flower', 'Look, there's a house on top of the hill'. If you feel the need to express an opinion make sure it is just that eg 'I love the blue sky you've painted here.' In this way, the child's self worth becomes internalised; they are important for themselves, simply for being, not because of their 'works' and the opinions of others.
A friend of mine had a very bright daughter who was doing amazing things with letters and sounds at about 3. My inexperienced reaction was to exclaim at how clever she was whilst her father looked at her 'game' for just the right amount of time and pronounced that it was 'interesting' and that she was 'having fun'. He reminded me of the scene from 'Babe' after the pig has nailed the sheep herding competition and the crowd is giving him a standing ovation. The farmer looks down and says quietly to his beaming partner, "That'll do pig."
Our children do not need frequent production numbers made out of their every effort in life.
"Isn't she clever/gifted/a natural etc." Congratulate, share their joy in achievements but focus on the aspects of that achievement which demonstrate good character: perseverance, good sportsmanship, creativity, not on the achievement itself.
Regular, observant and personal interactions over the little things in life assure children that they are loved and valued without creating a need for them to continually 'top' their last effort in order to get the attention which should simply be their birthright.
PS: That is the Small Boy's effort up at the back there. I particularly like the way it creates movement for the eye. :-)