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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dig for gold, not for dirt

[The following article, written by me, appeared in Deccan Herald on May 10, 2012]

I recently attended a workshop where one of the things the trainer said in passing was that we must remember to “dig for gold, not for dirt.” The thought resonated through me and brought back a rush of memories of instances when this value had not been upheld, leading to disastrous consequences.

It would not be inaccurate for me to say that 80-90 per cent of the children and adolescents who come for counselling, come with issues of low self-esteem, and problems arising out of that. Their self-talk is about: “I am not good enough,” “I am not smart enough,” “I am not good looking enough,” “I didn’t do well in my test, so why should anyone be my friend?” “No one is talking to me,” “I can’t ask a question because the teacher may scold me and then the others will laugh at me.” and so on and so forth. Statements like these are all manifestations of low self-esteem.

The important thing is that none of these children were born this way. We, the parents, teachers, and other adults in their world, have made them this way, by our casual remarks, hurtful comments and uncaring ways.

We must be extremely careful about what we say, and how we say it. We may very casually call our child stupid, or dumb, or slow or incapable. But do we really want him/her to grow up believing that he/she is stupid or dumb or slow or incapable?

The parents of a primary school child came to me sometime back seeking help for their young son. They were very concerned after a teacher had pointed out many “problems” with the child during a recent parent-teacher meeting and had suggested that they meet the school counsellor. In my interaction with them, they said they were helpless and did not know how to deal with their son. Their choice of words sent a shiver down my spine because in my vocabulary you only “deal” with a “problem”! And a child is not a “problem”. If your child is a problem, then that attitude will reflect in everything that you do and say to him or her. And your child will soon start believing that he/she is a “problem”. The same holds true for teachers with respect to their students. If teachers consider a child to be a “problem”, then that is what he/she will become, and stay.

Not surprisingly, when I asked these parents what they had observed as their child’s strengths, neither parent could come up with anything, even though I tried asking the question in two or three different ways, at different points in our session together.

Now, to me that is the “problem” that we needed to “deal” with. Not the child.
It should come as no surprise then that many children grow up believing there is nothing special about them, because these parents were not unique.

Making a child ‘visible’ in the eyes of parents, teachers, and other adults is very important. But to make them visible when they are being good and doing good, rather than when they are being bad, can have a significant impact on your child’s mental make up. This is a powerful tool.

For parents and teachers
Elders can instill confidence in children by simply keeping their eyes and ears open,  listening to the kind word, noticing the neat work, watching out for good behaviour, and acknowledging the effort.

Make sure there is at least something good you have noticed, and acknowledged, in your child every day. And, if everyday seems too daunting a task to begin with do it, at least every week.

You’d be surprised when you realise how rarely you have been applauding your son or daughter for his/her effort. In fact some kids have probably never received appreciation from their parents. Yet, this negligence goes unnoticed all the time.

Remember to dig for gold. Do it every day till it becomes a habit. And scrub the gold to make it shine even more, rather than just trying to brush off the dirt and “dealing” with the mess thus created.


  1. Wonderful insight and how true ,Thanks for sharing ,it enlightned me .

  2. Thanks, am glad you found it useful