Let’s say one of the girls in your class, Margaret, confides in you she’s a failure, and will never make it to the next grade. You ask her why she’s a failure. “I failed my arithmetic test again,” she whimpers. “I never pass anything.” Ask her to elaborate and tell you all the reasons she can think of, which make her think she’s a failure. Write down each item. When Margaret can’t think of any more reasons, go through each one with her, evaluating whether it is true or not true. Produce some of her old tests, and ask her to count how many she failed and how many she passed. In addition show her any work she has done which demonstrates she is not a failure, like assignments she did well on, or art projects she was proud of.
Ask her to change all her not true, irrational beliefs to rational ones, by looking only at what she does, not at how she feels about what she does. This will help her appreciate the strong points she has, which she normally overshadows by her weak points.
Another type of child who can benefit from this process is the “I-gotta-be-Number-One” child. These children usually do more work than they need to, and set unreasonably high expectations for themselves. You can ask the child questions like:
–“What’s the worst thing that can happen to you if you do not get straight A’s on your report card?”
–“Why do you want straight A’s? Aren’t there other things worth striving for which are just as important, like being a good friend, or playing a good game of basketball? Do you want people, when they see you, to say, “There goes Paul, he’s a straight A student,” or, “There goes Paul, he’s a swell guy”?
–“Isn’t trying your best what counts–no matter if you get straight A’s or straight C’s? Nobody has to feel bad about getting C’s, so long as they try.”
In addition, these techniques can benefit children who are underachievers, anxious, depressed, or lack self-confidence.