So the kids had their martial arts promotional exam Saturday. Riley was testing for her yellow belt. Seth, for his yellow stripe, since he started a few months behind her.
You might recall how difficult the first test was for Riley. It was crowded with all the classes thrown together and she could not deal. Instructors she'd never met were there to judge. It was all so different from what she was used to. She had a meltdown almost immediately. We spent most of the time in her teacher's office, secluded, except when she somehow miraculously came out and did her form.
This time she sat in the big room the whole time, with all the other students. She got up and did her form, well. She finished and immediately ran over to me in tears, "I didn't do a good job." She had done an amazing job, but the black belt judging only gave her feedback on what could be improved. She took it as "my performance sucked."
Last night I was talking to a dear friend, who is a martial artist and the parent of an adult child in the high functioning club. She said, when a child can't read facial cues well, and doesn't understand non-verbal feedback, it is essential for instructors to spell out the good stuff. Riley seriously doesn't know if she's done a good job. She doesn't always "get" her teacher's smiles of encouragement. She needs to be told, in words, specifically what she has done well, along with feedback on what could be improved.
I'd been struggling with this, because I sometimes feel like Riley needs constant praise for everything she does. I worry that the whole world isn't going to always praise her every move, and I worry that her motivation isn't internal; that she always needs that pat on the back. Now I understand it better. We all get non-verbal pats on the back, all the time. She may get them but it doesn't mean she "gets" them. She needs to hear the words.
Side note, last year I took out a book on acting from the library. It was famous actors, each depicting a different facial expression in close up shots. Riley and I went over it and I was floored by how many emotions she got wrong. Way wrong. How confusing must the world be to her?
Seth was more nervous than I expected. He sat there, looking like he was going to be sick. When it was his turn, he remembered his whole form, but it was slow, like he was under water. You could see him talking it through in his mind. He was almost the littlest one there. So cute.
After the test, each student got the opportunity to break a board. Seth got it first try. Riley tried and tried and tried, and then the teacher, attempting to hold back a meltdown held Riley's hand and "helped" her. Riley immediately flipped out because, "she did it for me!"
When it was over, I hustled Seth out to the van as Todd stayed behind and helped Riley with her coat and shoes. I went nuts over his broken board. Told him how amazing he was before Riley got outside.
Riley progressed by leaps and bounds since her last test, but it took us hours to convince her she did a good job.
She did such a good job.
They both did.
...and on we go.