587. Much Ado About Something

If a child hears an adult say great things about something the child has done, it can have a great effect on her/him. True, some children are cautious about accepting such praise. Some even have a policy of refusing to accept praise, believing that it’s fake – that it’s something adults use to build self-esteem, and has little or nothing to do with anything real. And sometimes, that can be sort of true. Or thinking that way can make it true.
But today I encountered a child I had worked with in the special needs summer school, and I got a chance to use praise in a way that really worked. He told me that he was going to be on a basketball team, and that the season was going to start soon. I thought I remembered that he had told me about being on a team last year, and I checked it out with him. He acknowledged that he had been on a team, but he looked ashamed, not proud. “I only got two points all season,” he mumbled.
It was obvious to me that somehow, he had come to believe that getting only two points during an entire basketball season was not very good. Maybe he knew about how many points some famous professional basketball players get in a typical game. Perhaps some other players on his team had gotten several points per game. And maybe he had tried many times to get baskets, and had succeeded only once.
I decided to see if I could score some points for his self-esteem. I didn’t want to be dishonest, but in this case, I was in position to score, and nobody was covering me. In fact, the boy’s mother was there, ready to assist if I needed help. “You got two points in an actual GAME?” I asked, with an astonished tone of voice, and not a bit of sarcasm.
He smiled. “Yes,” he said. And he smiled some more. Evidently, I wasn’t one of those people who think
two points aren’t many. Whether or not I was right about that, he was going to enjoy this conversation
“Weren’t there people on the other team trying to stop you?” I asked, still sounding astonished. He explained to me that people WERE trying to stop him, but he was too fast for them.
At that point, I could have talked about the plight of the poor people who had tried to stop him, but that would have been focusing on the competition that is a big part of basketball. I didn’t think the time was right for focusing on competition; he would too quickly remember how many people had gotten many more than two points. Instead, I kept the conversation going the way it was already going; that is, we talked about how hard it is to get a basket when people are trying to prevent you from getting one, and how wonderful it was that he’d been able to. It wasn’t hard to keep him on that subject.
Does this sound dishonest to you? Should I have let him know that I know that getting two points in a whole season isn’t usually considered so remarkable? I don’t think so. I considered it remarkable, and I think he liked hearing about my perspective more than he would have liked being compared with other players.

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