Is it ever OK to tell a child 'you're just not good at this'?

Mum and child holding hands
Many parents face this dilemma as children's hopes and dreams can at times be unattainable.

How honest is too honest when it comes to children and their ambitions?

What do you do when your child or grandchild decides they have an amazing voice, a Picasso-like skill with the paintbrush, or unusual flair on the sports field, yet you cam see that no matter how hard they try, they just aren’t able to do it well?

Encouraging your child to play an instrument or cheering them on as they run across the finish line is one thing, but do you tell them, for example, they have a great singing voice when in reality they sound like nails on a chalkboard?

Or do you continue with the little white lie that they’re fantastic at their chosen endeavour, while hoping that they either improve or lose interest?

Not that long ago, we would’ve likely been told in no uncertain terms that we didn’t excel in one thing or another, if not by our parents then by family or friends or our teachers.

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But in this age of helicopter parenting, when parents seem keen to protect their kids from everything, including the brutal truth that none of us are good at everything, and there are some things that some of us just don’t have the talent for.

Dilvin Yasa wrote on 9Honey of the moment that she found out she was actually an awful singer.

“I sang and sang – until the day my bogan neighbour (an adult – and I use that term loosely) stuck her head over our fence to inform me that I sounded ‘like a cat being violated with a grater’ and that it would be best for everyone if I didn’t sing – ever,” she recalled in her opinion piece.

“It would be unthinkable to speak to a child like that now, but this was the 80s – a time when children didn’t crumble easily and didn’t have any real way of finding out what a violation with a grater could possibly mean.”

Yasa reckons experience made her stronger in the long run. But when Yasa said she still found it difficult to be honest with her own daughter about her daughter’s less-than-stellar singing voice.

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“I spoke to her about being up against kids who had been enjoying singing lessons for years and that perhaps she might want to start displaying her talents on a smaller, localised scale, such as joining the school choir,” the mother explained.

“When the lights went out in her eyes and I realised her dream wasn’t so much about singing, but about being on television, I realised I was on the right track to dissuade her from something she wasn’t really interested in.”

 

But other parents were split on whether it was the right move, with some accusing her of “crushing” her child’s dreams,, while others said it was a parent’s job to help their child pursue the activity they may actually excel in, not just keep “lying” to them.

 

How did you handle this with your children? Is it kinder to tell a white lie, or better for them in the long run to understand you can’t be good at everything?