Good Enough

Wellness |

“She’s not doing well this term because she hasn’t handed in one project,” my daughter’s sixth-grade teacher informed me at our jaw-dropping parent-teacher conference. “That can’t be,” I sputtered, recalling many evenings I’d helped her research, write, color and staple projects ranging from “The Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast” to the “Four Stages of Growth in a Bean Plant.”

We looked in her school desk and discovered two of the missing projects jammed into the bottom corner. Deeply puzzled, I brought the projects home and asked my daughter what happened to the rest.

“I threw them in the garbage,” was her blithe reply. “They weren’t good enough.”

In my daughter’s eyes, only a project that guaranteed her an A was good enough — and because her self-esteem was low, she assumed that none of her work was even close.

She had decided that it was better to get a zero than suffer the humiliation of a B or a C. My wife and I were stumped by this attitude; we consistently stressed that it was more important to give school her best effort (and to take pride and satisfaction in that) than to worry about what grade she happened to get. Apparently those values got lost in the competitive hothouse of the classroom. It seems that a group of “cool kids” who always got As made sure the kids who got Bs and Cs knew it.

My wife and I were close to full-blown parental panic but tried to handle the situation in a relaxed and we-shall-overcome manner. One of the first things we did was work closely with her teacher to redo some projects and keep those grades private.

We also looked for ways to boost her self-esteem inside and outside of the classroom. We discovered that sports really helped our daughter gain confidence. Finally, we helped her look at why kids acted the way they did: “Maybe Megan picks on you because she doesn’t feel good about herself.”

Though our daughter will no doubt encounter more bouts with her self-esteem, and she’ll probably always tend to be a perfectionist, I’m glad we were able to tackle this particular problem early. Handling issues of personal expectations and self-esteem only gets harder as kids mature and patterns of behavior take root.