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Short Lesson in Positive Psychology for my Son Delivered via Telephone

By Michelle Higgins - 23rd December 2011

Last night my oldest child had a crisis of confidence. In fact, the crisis began at pick up and continued well into the evening. The source of his misery was an English paper that he just could not wrap his head around. A paper that was due the next day, the last day of the school term, the day we were flying home and the last thing any of us wanted to focus on was homework.

While I would have loved to have told my son not to worry, I knew that giving him an out was not the right thing to do. For one thing, his worry over the paper was in some ways a good sign, a reflection of the fact that he cares about his schoolwork and wants to do well. For another, as he moves through school and life there will be many challenges and part of growing up is learning how to meet them head on, and the sense of accomplishment (and relief) when we face down our demons.

I did not tell my son that he needed to stay up all night and get an A on his paper. In fact, I emphasised that this time around a good enough paper would in fact be good enough. I did not want him to focus on grades, but instead tried to help him think about other times where he had found something difficult but chose to push through and came out the other end triumphant. A change of countries, an entirely new school system, a lightning fast math curriculum, all provided me with plenty of material – he had dealt with all of these situations with some tears but also hard work and determination and emerged with a real sense of achievement.

The other aspect of this particular crisis was that my son catastrophised the situation – something we all do when we are feeling overwhelmed (or at least I do). Rather than recognising that for whatever reason this paper did not sit well with him, he declared that he was terrible at creative writing. And fortunately this is entirely untrue. Rather than simply uttering platitudes, I pointed to assignments he had completed this year that he had done very well in and involved similar creative approaches.

I do not know if my son truly heard me. Much of our conversation took place over a phone line as I was racing around doing last minute shopping for our trip. But the good news is that when I arrived home he had in fact made a very decent start on the paper. It may not be his best effort ever, but he got it done, and can now go on holiday without a little dark cloud hanging over his head.

image freedigitalphotos.net DC Dominici

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