In two days, my firstborn, Phoebie, had a taste of what it was like to be at the top of the mountain on one day, and then at the bottom of the valley the next day. To be fair, I wouldn’t call what happened to her to be the bottom of the valley, but it just seemed like she had felt that way. So in a span of two days, I had to teach my daughter about handling both victory and defeat.
On the first day, Phoebie had come home, showing her English mini test. She had scored full marks and was apparently the only one in her class who scored 30/30. Naturally, I was happy for her and congratulated her on doing well.
HusBenKoh and I commended her on a job well done. “Great job, Phoebie!” We both said, “We are so proud of you!”
Phoebie was, obviously, beaming.
“I’m happy for you that you have done so well for the English test!” I said, “But more importantly, I’m proud of you and glad that you tried your best, and I want you to know that even if you didn’t get full marks, I’m proud of you as long as you have tried your best.”
“At the same time,” HusBenKoh added, “We want you to remember that even though you are the only one in class who scored full marks, you should not show off. We are proud of you but you don’t have to show off to your friends.”
HusBenKoh went on to explain to Phoebie that her classmates have probably also tried their best during the test, but for various reasons, they did not get full marks. It would not feel nice when someone came over and show off to them.
Phoebie listened and seemed to have understood what we told her. We knew she was on cloud nine, so we continued to hug and kiss her and congratulated her on her results.
This was Phoebie’s supposed taste of victory in her studies. She had done well and we were happy for her, but we also reminded her that her victory was also God’s favour and grace, and that she should remain humble and just continue to do her best.
The second day, Phoebie went for her dance class and received the results from her dance exam that she did earlier this year, and she was disappointed. When husBenKoh came home with her, he quietly told me that she was upset with her score.
I took a look at the score sheet and certificate. Phoebie had scored 64 out of 100 marks and attained a merit on her certificate. To be honest, I thought that wasn’t too bad. In fact, I thought it was pretty good. Phoebie attends her dance class once a week, and only twice a week in the six months that led up to her exam. For someone who wasn’t dancing every day, I thought it was quite good.
I called Phoebie into her room and sat down with her.
“You don’t look happy, Phoebie,” I said, “Why are you upset?”
“Because,” Phoebie said, as tears started to roll down her cheeks, “I didn’t do well for the dance exam.”
I went through the score chart that explained the banding of scores with her, and explained to her that for someone who only attends dance lessons once a week, and only has extra coaching six months before the exam, I thought the result was pretty good.
Phoebie probably didn’t hear anything I said, because she was sobbing.
“It’s okay to cry when you are upset. You know, in fact, when you are crying over your result, you are telling me one thing about you,” I said.
“What?” Phoebie asked between sobs.
“It tells me that you think that you can still improve and that you want to get better. You are upset with your score because you feel that you didn’t do well, and you want to be better than this score,” I explained.
“Did you do your best for this dance exam?” I asked.
“Do you still enjoy your dance classes?” I asked.
“Do you want to give up because you are upset with your results? Or do you want to continue with your dance class?” I asked.
“I don’t want to give up, I want to continue,” Phoebie said, bawling at the same time.
I knew she needed some time to deal with her emotions, so I let her cry for a little while more.
“Now, I need you to calm down and come with me,” I said to Phoebie, and led her to the mirror in my room.
“Remember what used to happen during your swimming lessons?” I asked Phoebie. “You would cry at every single lesson when things got difficult. You refused to go to the deeper end of the pool and would make a big fuss. In the end, you managed to try and kept on trying. Today, you are able to swim well, and not just well. You are now swimming in a pool that is much deeper than the one you were afraid of and you are swimming further.”
Phoebie blinked her tears away as I talked to her.
“Can you imagine if you had given up just because you were scared of the deep end of the pool and stopped swimming? Do you think you will be able to swim the same way you do today?” I asked her.
Phoebie shook her head.
“Now, I can understand that you are upset about the results from the dance exam because you wish you got a better score. The thing is, that exam is over, and there is nothing you can do to change that score. What you can change is the score for the next exam. What do you think you need to do if you want to do better for the next exam?” I said.
“To focus, to listen to the teacher and to try harder,” Phoebie answered softly.
“Exactly!” I said. “Do you remember the art pieces that you recreated from the scribble lines that Alice (my friend’s daughter, and this is not her real name) drew in your note book? Do you remember how I challenged you to recreate something on those pages instead of just tearing them and throwing the pages away? From a few lines of scribble, you added more lines and ended up with a beautiful picture of a girl playing a harp!”
I could tell that Phoebie was thinking about those pages that she had redrawn in her notebook.
“Do you remember that your Art teacher told you at the beginning of attending her class? She doesn’t have erasers and she will not allow you to use erasers to correct your drawings. If you feel that you have drawn something wrong or something you didn’t like, instead of erasing, what you can do is to change the drawing and try to make it better,” I reminded Phoebie.
“Now, I want you to look at yourself in the mirror”, I said, and Phoebie turned and faced the mirror.
“And I want you to look at yourself, and repeat after me,” I told her.
This was what I got her to repeat, “I am Phoebie Koh. The dance exam is over and I cannot change the score. What I can do is to move on from here, keep trying, keep enjoying my dance class and keep on dancing. I will continue to try and work hard and do better for the next exam. What is most important is that I keep trying and never give up.”
As Phoebie looked at herself in the mirror and repeated line by line after me, tears continued flowing. I could see that she was still upset, but I knew that I had to teach her to deal with the disappointment.
“Do you know why I am asking you to look in the mirror and tell yourself all this?” I asked her.
Phoebie shook her head.
“Because there will be sometimes when you get upset or disappointment but Papa and I may not be there to comfort you. You will have to learn to remind yourself that while you are upset, what is over is over and you cannot change it. What you can do is to keep trying and change the results of the next exam,” I explained.
We sat together for a while longer as I hugged Phoebie. She was crying into my shirt, so I gave her some more time to let her emotions out.
This was Phoebie’s supposed taste of defeat. She had felt defeated by a score that was lower than she had expected. While I didn’t think her results were bad, she was upset about it, so I gave her some space to deal with her emotions. At the same time, I had to help her learn that that one result was not the end of the world. There will always be more opportunities to try, and while we cannot change what is over, we can keep trying to get better.
After lunch, I asked Phoebie, “How are you feeling now? Are you still upset about your dance results?”
Phoebie replied, “No, I’m not upset anymore. I can’t change the results, but I will just try harder for the next one.”
(While we were still at the mirror, I shared with Phoebie what I had observed happened over the two days. Phoebie had gone from a day of super high, having done very well in her English test, to a day of super low, having received a score lower than her own expectations. I asked her to think about how she would have felt if her friends from dance class had done better than her, and had showed off their higher scores to her. She cried and said that she would have felt terrible. I reminded her that this was why husBenKoh and I had shared with her the day before, that even though she was very pleased with herself for getting full marks in her English test, she should not show off to her classmates. Just as she would have felt terrible if her dance friends had shown off their “higher scores” to her, her classmates would have felt the same way.)