I’m not certain when the idea that our performance equates our worth was formulated. However, I do know that many kids and teens feel the pressure to excel in order to feel they are valuable therefore cursing our kids to a life of performance-based worth. This performance curse can lead to terrible stress in children.
I see it in their struggles with school, feeling like they are not intelligent. I see it with sports, how one failed play can ruin their whole season in their minds. I see it with their friends, how they need to have a certain number of “likes” and “followers” to feel seen and loved. In their romantic relationships, trying to please their partner even if that means they cross their purity boundary. And even in their spiritual relationship with God, whose love they feel is conditional on their behavior. That is too much pressure to live with.
How can we as parents stop perpetuating this distortion of worth? Here are 5 of my suggestions:
Be Conservative and Authentic with Praise.
Give real praise on big accomplishments, making it more valuable when it is heard. In the world of participation trophies, when a real accomplishment is made we can’t always see the difference between the praise we received from the little things. What language can we use instead? Focus on the work or effort instead of using positive adjectives that can be overused. Teaching our kids perseverance is more important than teaching them there is only value in being successful at everything.
Teaching our kids perseverance is more important than teaching them there is only value in being successful at everything.
Go Big or Go Home!
Encourage them to take risks. Not only does this get them out of their comfort zone, but it also exposes them to the reality of failure! We will all fail, and most likely, we will fail a lot. I love hearing the stories of people who initially failed but then were able to overcome. Failure isn’t an end all; instead, we should help our kids see that it is just one of the next steps we have to take in our life.
Develop Their Identity.
Kids and teens alike are exploring who they are, whether in a social context, family relationships, or culture as a whole. There is great value in kids figuring out their personality, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. It develops confidence and provides a solid foundation during seasons of stress and failure. Here’s an article that can help parents understand how teens search for their identity.
Even though there is a point when kids transition from you being “the coolest person ever” to you being “the lamest, you-don’t-understand-me parent,” they still take guidance from you. Sharing your own failures, your own pressure to fit in, and your own perseverance stories can be comforting, even inspiring for our kids.
Pick up on Cues.
When do you notice the times your child seems to get the most irritated, i.e. after a game they played in, studying for a test, hanging out with friends? These could be patterns leading to a root of feeling inadequate. Wait until their temper has dissolved then ask them about it, see if they have noticed the pattern. Hopefully, you can then point out some of the distortions in their thinking, especially when related to their performance being a part of their worth.
Helping our kids see their worth does not come from their performance will be a life-changing shift in their perception and will contribute to them becoming the confident and healthy individuals we desperately want our kids to be!
How do you help your kids avoid the performance curse?
Paige Clingenpeel is a licensed teen therapist and has worked on TV, radio, and web-based media. Her passion is creating health, hope, and humor for youth and their families.