Many many moons ago when I was at school I had a cookery teacher who did not like the fact I was vegetarian. ‘Just cook it’ she would say, ‘you don’t have to eat it.’
‘No’ I would reply, ‘I don’t think its right.’
I was 12, she was MUCH older and I was scared of her. She was used to being in control and it was hard to find my voice. But I did and I was proud to stand up for my beliefs, even if a little daunted.
The dislike poured from her eyes. Who was I to challenge her? Even though my no’s were polite I could see she found me insolent. ‘I never had this trouble with your sister’ she would sneer.
Once she told me I had to cook fish, it wasn’t meat, she EXPECTED me too. I suggested we go and see what the headmaster thought. She didn’t take me up on the offer, I didn’t cook fish.
This was a hard battle for me. I was a very compliant kid and a good student and a bit fearful of authority.
One day as a class we made pin-wheel cookies. Something went wrong ( I was about to write I’m rubbish at baking and something went wrong, but I just stopped myself!) The fat spread and the cookies were flat and a bit bubbly. I was intrigued as to why this happened and it could have /should have/would have been a good learning point. But instead the teacher pounced. This was her moment.
‘Gather round everyone’ she said (quite delightedly) ‘there is a bit of disaster over here, come and see what Becky has done to her biscuits.’ I remember she laughed, a not very nice laugh and the whole class gathered round to look at my biscuits. My face burned. She had won the battle.
She had also shamed me.
For the next 30 years I told people I was rubbish at cooking.
It became my mantra. I barely even tried after that and as a result I had little practice and so my offerings, when I did bake were not particularly good. This just fuelled my lack of self belief. It became a bit of a joke really and usually I made the joke first. It became part of my identity that I could not cook. I’d laugh about it first before anyone else did just so I didn’t feel that humiliation again of trying to get it right and failing.
Fast forward 33 years and my daughter did a cycling test at school . Lets just say it wasn’t a good experience and left her upset feeling really, really negative about her cycling ability.
I instinctively knew she need to get straight back on that bike and start cycling and keep working steadily to improve her skills. Not be unrealistic about where she was at, but most CERTAINLY not feel she couldn’t do it or was ‘rubbish’.
I hadn’t been a very good role model.
That evening I remade my pin-wheel cookies.
They were something to celebrate, not because they were amazing, (they do need practice) but because I gave then another go. I was no longer defeated and once they were cooked – well the fear had gone. The fear of embarrassing myself and feeling stupid. Had they been inedible well I would have thrown them away and had another bash. I had to show her getting something wrong is no big dea.l you just have another go and practice.
As a child we take on board what adults tell us. ‘It’s okay lets try again’ is SUCH a better message than ‘haha aren’t you useless.’
The next day we got the bikes out and went for a ride together down the canal path and practised a few things.
She’s getting there and having fun in the process.
Shaming kids can have long term impact, it can stop them trying and can push them into creating a negative self identity which can be both limiting and painful.
Pin-wheel cookie anyone?