Disappointed teenage girl holding exam result with F grade in front of face on university campus. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

I was approached by a family in Singapore to coach their A-star child who had, over the last year, demonstrated her inability to cope with the demands of senior school. When I was introduced to her, her academic status was at a dismal average of Bs and Cs.

Both parents were postgraduates of Ivy League colleges in the US and high achievers in their professional lives. The mother contacted me and when we spoke, she came across as extremely pleasant and well-versed with the struggles of her child. She gave me a very detailed picture of the challenges faced by her child and she seemed to have her finger on the pulse on the issue — or so she thought.

Her young daughter had always been in the top 5 per cent of her class. By the time she reached the crucial year to gain entrance to a college that would make or break her career and therefore life, she had suddenly crumbled under the pressures of academia. This young girl had hidden her falling grades from her parents until she was found out. She herself could not fathom how she could have an F in an exam she thought she had prepared well for.

That marked the beginning of her downward slide in grades while eroding her confidence in her academic ability. It hung like a demonic apparition mocking her. This voice became louder in her head, saying, ‘You are not going to get this right. You are ruining everything in your life. Your parents have given you so much and you are throwing it all away. You cannot move up from here. There is no point. Giving up is better than failing. You might as well give up’.

Unaware of these thoughts, her parents continued to support and motivate her to the best of their abilities. What they did not see was that she was losing her focus, which finally showed up in her results a couple of months down the line.

As I began to coach this young child, what emerged as the main culprit that seemed to have usurped her focus was that voice. She was constantly being hard on herself for every mistake she made. She knew she was intelligent and capable, but what she did not know was that she was also capable of failure and an F. She had not forgiven herself for that ghastly F and used every opportunity to berate herself even further. And she seemed to be getting more and more opportunities to be self-critical and harsh on herself. She was stuck in a vicious cycle.

As parents it is important to motivate and expect your child to excel and be successful in life. However, it is also important to manage your own expectations and those of your child. We tend to run to rescue our child from feeling the disappointment of failure by either questioning the teacher who corrected her paper or assuaging the child’s disappointment by distracting her. When one fine day the child has to face an F, she crumbles and does not know how to pick herself up. The only way seems to be to give up.

Use every F as a learning opportunity for your child to first face reality and feel the disappointment. Then teach her resilience skills to lift herself from that fall, dust herself off, learn from it and move on to face the next challenge wiser from the hurdle she just overcame. Teach her to be kind and gentle on herself because life will constantly throw challenges and she needs to be compassionate with herself to carry on.

Education imparts knowledge, but life imparts wisdom.

— Sunaina Vohra is a certified Youth and Family Life Coach at Athena Life Coaching in Dubai, and will be holding a workshop in academic and personal excellence skills this Easter. For more information log on to www.athenalifecoaching.com or call 056-1399033.