Your Child isn’t the Best at Everything

It used to be that good parenting involved telling your child things like

  • you can do anything you put your mind to”
  • “you’re the smartest kid around”
  • “you’re the prettiest girl”
  • “you’re better than everyone at ________”

These statements, although well intended, are false. (Of course the road to hell is paved with good intentions). No one is the best at everything. No one can do anything he or she puts their mind to. No one is the prettiest or the most handsome, talented, brilliant, what have you. These are lies.

successGood parents want their children to feel good about themselves so they say nice things like that. But that’s doing a child a disservice. That child grows up thinking “I’m the best at everything” until that child meets a few people who are even better and has a rude awakening. That hurts one’s self-esteem. It’s a shock when whatever Mom or Dad told him or her is a lie. My parents lie? Really?

A friend of mine grew up in a really great family. Great but a bit elitist,  a bit, well, snobby. They were always telling her how wonderful she was and how special and how she couldn’t fail at anything she did because she was so great. She actually was gorgeous, smart and she had a talent for classical piano. At that time in our sheltered little corner of the world she really was a star. Then she went off to college and met other stars and was staggered by this. At first she didn’t notice. She thought she was superior to everyone else. Then over time she realized other people were just as pretty if not prettier than her. They played piano better than she could. They got better grades.

Her self-esteem plummeted. She had been taught to play the comparison game. Everything was a competition. Her parents had set her up for great disappointment and when she spoke to them on the phone while away at school they changed their tune. Well now she was an adult, what did she expect? Of course there were other terrific people around. Grow up. That was something we told you to get you through your high school years and because we love you. All parents think their kid is the best. Didn’t you know that?

angryShe was angry and betrayed. It was as though they threw a bucket of ice water at her. She didn’t trust her parents for a long time. She felt that the rug had been pulled out underneath her feet. After a while she got it together and stopped playing the comparison game with other people. She did the best she could for herself and worked to meet her own standards, which at first, were ridiculously high. Over the years she realized she couldn’t do everything and she had to re-think that pedagogy. A long road to be sure. But then again that’s what a transition to adulthood is about – pain and success.

Still it might have helped her a great deal had her parents been honest with her. Rather than saying “you can do anything you put your mind to“, why not “you are very strong in  (whatever subject). Why not pursue that for a career?” And rather than saying “you play piano better than anyone else,” why not, “you are a very good piano player,” and leave it at that?

We set up our children to always be great at everything they do when we tell them falsehoods about themselves. That just adds more stress to an already stressful teenage experience. We’re well-meant but that doesn’t mean we’re doing well. We aren’t the absolutely, undisputedly greatest parents in the world, after all.


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