"So few marks?" or "You made some progress..."

IN psychological terms, to “reframe” something is to look at it from a different perspective. Reframing is a way to turn what might be viewed as a negative scenario into a positive one. A very good example is the half-filled glass analogy. You can look at the glass and say “it is half-empty” or “it is half-filled”. The former can reflect a negative view of the object while the latter a more positive one.

Negative focus increases guilt and shame

So a parent can look at his child’s exam results and say:

  • RESPONSE 1: “How come you only got so few marks and what are YOU going to do about it? Why don’t you...?”
  • RESPONSE 2: “I can see you have made some progress but it looks like some more effort is needed. How do you feel about it? How can I help?”

The first response can sound rather negative, focusing on the poor results. There is an accusatory overtone and the blame pressure of “You”. The child is made to feel guilty for the poor performance. It may be true that the child is under-performing but shaming and loading the guilt factor on him will not help even though the intention is to get him to “wake up” and take responsibility for his studies. This is because guilt and shame only increase the emotional burden of the task before him. In extreme cases, the child suffers a breakdown at ‘A’ levels or in tertiary studies at the polytechnic or university. So avoid the guilt trip because it does not work in the long-term.

Positivity to offer support

The second response is more positive because it recognizes the short-comings of the child and calls for more effort but with an open offer of support. It is important for the child to know that he can get help and support even as he seeks to put in greater effort to pass his exams. Notice that the response does not offer solutions. The child still has to face his problem and find his solution for it. Avoid taking over your child’s problems but help them to face it with emotional support from you.

Reflection pointer

Recall a recent interaction you have had with your child; what sort of emotional outcome did he or she come away with? Was it neutral, positive or negative?

Action pointers
  • Try noticing whether your child is guilt-driven in his or her relationships with others including yourself. A tell-tale sign is judgemental criticism applied to self or others.
  • Ask your child how they feel about failures and mistakes. Share with your child how you learned life’s lessons from your failures and mistakes, pointing out how ‘reframing’ was important to making the change.


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