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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Give Your Child the Courage to be Imperfect

Children and parents, as well as teachers, need to know that

mistakes  are not failures.   Mistakes should be regarded as aids

to learning.
Children  who  are fearful of making mistakes are  not  risk

takers.  They have a great need to be perfect.   Children need to

be encouraged,  not expected to pursue  perfection.   Over concern

with mistakes, often causes children to make more mistakes rather

than less,   and,  instead of learning from mistakes, they become

In  schools,  we tend to point out what the student has done

wrong,  not  what  he or she has done  right.  Students  who  are

fiercely  competitive, or who set unrealistically high standards

may  find  themselves  in  an  impossible,   often  very  unhappy

situation.    If  their  overambition  is  the  result  of  basic

inferiority  feelings,  then  these feelings are reinforced  when

they make mistakes and do not get an A for their work.  Since  it

takes  time and repeated mistakes to learn a new  skill,  schools

might  be more helpful to students if they encouraged the  effort

and graded the final product, not the intermediate steps.
The  best motivation for learning  is the pleasure in  doing

it.   Since most of our grading is based on comparing students to

some standard,  most of the students’ motivation is to get a good

grade.   In many colleges,  students will not take a course  that         

they  may enjoy or may be challenged by if they have any  feeling

that  they  may  get a poor grade in the  course.   Students  are

working for the grade, not for the knowledge.
This   motivation   begins  in  elementary  school  and   is

perpetuated  by  parents’  attitudes.   Parents  need  ask  their

children  what they learned or how they  enjoyed  school,  rather

than  asking  why  the child got a B grade and not  an  A  grade.

Children feel the pressure to get the top grades.  Some will copy

from others or will change their answers in an effort to cover-up

for  mistakes.   Many  children  will not admit  to  not  knowing

something that they need to know in order to take the next  step.

They have not developed what Rudolph Dreikurs calls:  The Courage

to be Imperfect.
Children  need  to  learn that while improvement  is  always

possible,  perfection is an utopian concept.  They do not have to

be  better  than  others or even better than  they  already  are.

Parents  can help children with this by admitting that they  make

mistakes too.  They can create an atmosphere in the home where it

is safe to make mistakes.
Students   who   set  unrealistically  high   standards  for

themselves, sometimes withdraw completely from any challenge when

they face the possibility of failure.  They resort to displays of

inadequacy  such as saying: I can’t do math. I don’t know how  to

spell.  Whenever I do that I always do it wrong.   I know I won’t

pass, so why try.  These students are deeply discouraged and they

convince  adults that they are unable and helpless and  therefore                

not  much  should be expected of them.   They have  the  mistaken

belief that anything less than perfect is nothing.   When they do

not  think they can be the best,   they give up.   These students

act  so  discouraged  that  parents  tend  to agree   with   them

and  feel hopeless and often give up on the student.
In  redirecting students who  have given up,  adults do  not

help  them by pitying them.   It is best  to  stop  all criticism

and   to   focus   on  assets.    These students   need   to   be

encouraged   for  any  positive  attempts.   Students  who   quit

and  stop  trying sometimes  resort  to truancy  and  may  escape

through alcohol or other drugs.
Parents  too  need to develop the courage to  be  imperfect.

The  courage to be imperfect allows you to focus on the  present,

rather  then  worrying   about the past.   It is  best  to  limit

yourself to  what you  can do.   Do not try to correct or  change

too   many   things.  Above  all,  develop  a sense of  your  own

personal  strength  and worth.

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