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Last week, I made my ten-year-old son cry. Can I be totally honest here and say that at the time, I wasn’t really sorry for it?
We were in the midst of studying for the fourth grade spelling bee. Josh was in the final group of 15 students who would complete in just two short days in front of his peers. To prepare, he was given a list of 600 words to review in a week’s time. The challenge would be a great way to teach Josh the benefits of hard work and good competition.
We were on word #247.
“Mom! I’m missing too many words! I CAN’T DO THIS!”
“Of course you can. You are the smartest kid I know. And the best speller.”
“No, I’m not. I can’t remember how to spell these words!”
“That’s because you haven’t learned them yet. We are learning them now.”
“How many words did I miss on this page?”
“Don’t worry about that. We are just reviewing right now.”
After a few more misspelled words, his eyes started to glisten with tears.
“Mom, I’m not good at this. Can we stop now?”
“No. I know you can do this. Just a couple more words and we’ll stop for the day.”
I felt like Mother of the Year. NOT.
At the beginning of the week, I was sure that I knew my child and his capabilities. He really was a good speller. Was I pushing him? Yes. Did I encourage him along the way? Yes. Was it hard work? Yes. (For him and for me!) Doubts began to surface when the frustration would set in. I could see how he was progressing, but he could not. I was hoping to build his determination, but he was feeling defeat. That’s where the tears began.
But even through this, I knew there was an importance of teaching him that doing new things can be difficult, hard work pays off and there are rewards along the way. It was my goal as his coach to motivate and to teach him some skills he could learn from the experience.
When I would see his frustration, I would stop, encourage and praise him for what he was doing right. It would be enough to keep him going through more words until we were finished with our 20 minutes. The night before the spelling bee, we persevered through the rest of the list and by then, I wanted the whole thing to be over as much as he did. While I could sense stress, I was quick to assure that those feelings were normal and I had no doubts of his skill.
Despite my “motivational speeches” and my good intentions, I neglected one important thing: to ask him what was going on right at that time in his mind and heart. Instead, I was quick to give encouragement based on what I was seeing, not what I was hearing.
It was then that my husband intervened. Through his God-given wisdom, Chris could see that while Josh was nervous about the next day, he was not so much stressed as he was worried that he was going to disappoint his parents in the worst way imaginable: by failing. Josh, with his compassionate heart, will do anything to please and to keep peace. Chris not only encouraged Josh, but he prayed with him at bedtime and stayed with him until he was relaxed and could fall asleep.
Josh didn’t need stress relief, he needed failure relief. He needed to understand and grasp that no matter what, he had worked hard, and wherever he finished — we were his biggest cheerleaders.
He didn’t need my motivation as much as he needed my patience, praise and prayer. While he did agree that he could do well in the spelling bee, he needed the assurance would be accepted, no matter what happened.
The following morning, there was a brighter outlook. I made a nutritious breakfast for Josh and sent him off to school on the bus, telling him we would see him at the spelling bee. I promised not to sit too close.
We were prepared for anything, and I was as nervous as anything. However, you want to know what I saw?
Confidence. At each turn, Josh came to the microphone and spelled word after word, not showing an ounce of nervousness or stress. Seeing the assurance in this ten year old as he spelled for his peers was not as much the result of my coaching as it was an answer to prayer. We were so happy and encouraged, we didn’t care how far he progressed through the contest.
He finished in second place.
After several rounds between himself and another 4th grade girl to determine the winner, the moderator pulled out the 5th grade spelling list. Josh got stuck on the word, “nitrogen”, but he finally realized where he had finished. He was overjoyed with a grin that wouldn’t quit.
It was then that I cried. Looking back — I believe that it was me who learned the most from the 4th grade spelling bee.
Blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord. The Lord will be his confidence.
(Jeremiah 17:7 GWT)
Here are a few things that did help us through this process. Maybe some of these will help you too!
- Knowing when study times would be and that there was a designated amount of time allotted (15-20 minutes worked best). Keeping shorter study times help lower frustration.
- Allowing some free time in between reviewing sessions for a little reading or TV.
- Giving some guidelines of how the material could be studied. (Kids need to be guided on how to study and memorize.)
- Granting undisturbed time to study alone, using his own thinking process.
- Remember to praise, congratulate, reward throughout the process!
- Be patient and calm in order to deflect frustration. (Use chocolate if necessary. Seriously.)
- Ask questions periodically: “How are you doing? Are you nervous? Where else can I help?”
- Pray with my child so he knows where his strength comes from.