Proof Positive

Proof Positive

It is Sunday evening and I am recovering from a weekend family visit. My knuckles are bruised from playing football (throwing the ball—no tackling involved) with my children and grandchildren. The rest of the weekend we played scrabble or card games and took long walks. There isn’t a non-competitive bone in the bunch of us.

I am particularly proud of my generous daughters and spirited grandkids. As I consider their appetites for fun and food, I remember an event from the past that has influenced me as a mother and teacher.

When my youngest was three years old, a group of graduate students from a major university in North Carolina came to her preschool to do some testing. They told me to prepare her for a fun day. I did, and she expected a good time. Following the test, they discussed their findings with each parent. They reported that she didn’t recognize the color “yellow”, and that there was no disappointment or tears when she didn’t win a balloon. There were more comments, but those are the ones that stuck in my mind. With way too much condescension, they explained that she was below average and would never achieve much success due to her lack of a competitive nature. They then asked if I wanted the test scores to go on her permanent record. When I said, “Absolutely no!” and then challenged their conclusions, they treated me like a defensive uninformed mother.

I was a full professor myself and considered the study to be flawed, not because of the number of degrees on my office wall, but because the results simply did not reflect my daughter. As it turned out, I didn’t need to defend her. She proved them wrong herself. She became an athlete and an honor student, making the dean’s list throughout college. And now, halfway through her career in an intense technology-driven company, she already earns double my highest salary. Does it sound like she lacks a competitive nature?

The moral of this story: don’t let other people define you or your children—even if they think they have the knowledge to do so. I am just thankful she was too young to understand their predictions and perhaps be limited by believing them.

As a parent and a retired teacher, I am still overwhelmed by the power we hold over children through our choice of using criticism and labels or encouragement and great expectation.

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