The big secret to raising strong, successful children is to understand the psychological concept of “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” (SFP). This theory is created by a sociologist named Robert K. Merton in 1948. His theory states that any prediction or believe that we make at the beginning would affect our behavior in such a way that we make that prediction come true.

In other words, if you believe you are rubbish, you become rubbish and if you believe you are awesome, you become awesome.

Because the effect of SFP is so real, parents and teachers have to be careful of the things we say to our children or students. When you tell your daughter “I know that you will be one of the best dancers and perform at Victoria concert hall one day”. She will rise to the occasion and become that! Kids tend to live up to the expectations that are communicated to them.

For example, when you tell your child that “You have no talent in mathematics, you take after me”, the statement will have a significant impact if your child believes in what you say. If he (or she) really believes that he has no talent in mathematics, he will act in such a way to ensure that your statement is true. He will choose to avoid math, he will lose confidence in math and he will choose to make math difficult in his mind. Whenever he fails a math quiz, it will reinforce his beliefs and whenever he passes one, he would think it’s a fluke.

Tips to use Self-Fulfilling prophecy positively with your Children/Students:

Sometimes relaying a positive third-person statement could have extra impact. For example, “Aunt Gina told me that you are very obedient and respectful as you greeted her politely this morning”.

Always highlight and openly comment on their strengths. As a math tutor, I am constantly on the look out to find opportunities to compliment my students when they do something positive. For example, “Excellent habit of checking your work and correcting the mistakes yourself” and “Wow, your mental calculation is quite strong, keep it up!”

Keep your expectations high and communicate clearly to your child or student. “You picked up this math chapter very well, I am confident you can get a distinction! Keep working hard!”

Do not ever label your child or student with negative traits. AVOID saying things like “Gosh, you are really bad at algebra”. Instead say “I understand that you are struggling with algebra right now, but I have seen many students who were like you before. Although they struggled with algebra, they work very hard and eventually find it a piece of cake”.

When you notice your child or student label themselves negatively, remember to find opportunities to correct it. I had a student who told me “I’m really horrible at math and totally have no talent in it”. So, we worked really hard for one exam where she scored a high distinction. I looked her in the eye and told her very seriously “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are bad at math. Not even me. Not even yourself. I know you are fully capable of doing well in mathematics and you will continue to do well in it”. After that, she continued to practice harder than the rest and scored many distinctions in math.

When your child or student is present in front of others. Comment on their strengths publicly to others and allow them to “eavesdrop” on your compliment. NEVER EVER highlight their weaknesses in front of others, it hurts their pride and their confidence. When a student does well for a recent exam, I make it a point to highlight it in front of their parents and comment on either their good effort or good grasp of the concepts.

To get professional help (Math tuition) on secondary school mathematics in Singapore, click here.

Mr Ausome