By Paulyne L. Fermin
“Mom, look! We learned about fables in school and my classmates and I helped each other write a book,” my five-year-old daughter R gushes. She excitedly flips to her page and points to her drawing. “Is my work nice, Mommy?” I start to read and smile at her attempt to spell big words like “special,” which she wrote as “speshal” and “guest” as “gest.” She shows me another page with her words but this one is illustrated by another classmate. My smile becomes bigger as I marvel at the written work of my toddler. It reads,“Let’s have a sleepover undr the night sky, sed the tiger.” I go back to her solo page and notice that it’s almost empty, except for three small animals and a cake. I scan the rest of the book and see that most of the kids in her kindergarten class filled up their pages with drawings. R repeats her question. “You are very creative. I love your words, sweetie, but I think you can do better when it comes to drawing.” Tears start to well up in her eyes as she says, “I thought you will like it instead you like the others.” She is inconsolable for some minutes but calms down eventually.
Good versus Better versus Best
While it’s a practice for most parents to shower their children with praises, I find that constructive criticism at a young age teaches them valuable lessons and makes them step up. R’s brother M who is eight years older was (and still is) very proprietary as a child. He did not like his work to be touched. When he was about four and had just started going to preschool, I erased his doodle and he got very mad. I respected his space and would thereafter make my corrections on a separate piece of paper. He would look at my suggested answer and then decide for himself what he wanted to change in his work. “I don’t like mediocrity. You can do better,” I would say when I saw work that was haphazardly done. This may sound harsh to some but I say this to challenge my child. My words serve as a cue to my son to apply himself. And if I see no improvement I would give him a break, a clean sheet of paper and a stern but encouraging smile.
From raising two kids of different genders, I have learned these, thus far:
- My boy doesn’t take criticism personally, my girl does. My daughter chose to zero in on what I said about her drawing and not how I praised her words. I had to explain to her that details in her illustration would make her words come to life. I have to parent my girl differently but still instill the same values of hardwork, patience, and fortitude.
- Intentions and expectations must be made clear. Whether we like it or not, the reality is we live in a very competitive world. I am tough on my children so they can live up to their full potentials I have never forced an activity, sport, or hobby on them. What I do is suggest things they might enjoy doing and if I see their interests are piqued, then that’s when I push them to excel.
- My goal is for the kids to see me as an ally and not a friend. I want my children to know that no matter how strict I am when it comes to schoolwork, I will always be a mother who loves them unconditionally. That grades and medals do not define them. That I push them to do their best because I want them to be ready for the future.
Have I been successful? There are positive results but it’s really too early to say. My son graduated at the top of his grade school batch and is now a high school academic scholar. He continues to work hard to make the grade to keep the scholarship. He is on his own. My daughter is about to enter the big school next year. With hope, we will have fewer tearful conversations and more fun. In the end, nothing is worth it if my kids are not happy and healthy. And success is how we define it.