How not to encourage a kid

I don’t remember much from my childhood, my therapist says it’s a defensive measure my brain uses to protect itself from the unpleasantness I’ve endured, but every so often something will rear up. Such was the case a little while ago.

I can’t say what prompted the memory, but it’s pretty clear to me right now, and it makes me wonder how I could have forgotten it.

What I remember came at a time I can only describe as a pivotal point in my education, the beginning of my exam years, and though I can’t say for sure how it affected me, it must have had some effect.

When I was thirteen I was signed up to the local marine cadets by my father; it was not something I wanted to do, and it certainly wasn’t something I enjoyed — I was the youngest person there, and too young to take part in any of the outings or events that might actually have been fun.

I was placed in a group of about half a dozen other boys, and we all learned to drill, prepare our uniforms and weapons, and we studied a variety of subjects, including the history of the marines and the history of the training unit I was enrolled at.

Because of my small size, I was a fairly tiny kid, I struggled with handling a Lee Enfield rifle from WW1 — it was almost as big as me —  and wasn’t very good with the uniform because they didn’t have one that was the right size for me. One area where I was capable, though, was the learning; I’ve always had a good head for remembering facts and trivia, it comes naturally to me, though my depression does cause problems with my short-term memory at times.

On the occasion that has popped into my mind this evening I was with my fellow cadets, being shot questions by one of the training officers, a strict guy who was only seen to smile occasionally. I didn’t find the questions too difficult, since I like trivia and history, and consequently got every question put to me right, until I stumbled and gave a wrong answer.

This then is the bit the title of this story refers to — instead of encouraging me to try again for the right answer, or commiserating and telling me not to worry, that one wrong answer is nothing to be bothered about, the officer came over, shook my hand and congratulated me on getting the answer wrong.

I don’t remember what he actually said, but I do remember being congratulated on giving an incorrect answer, because being able to give the right answer is apparently the wrong thing to do.

Can you imagine what that’s like for a kid, especially a kid starting an important educational period, to be told that getting an answer wrong is a good thing? Worse than that is to be told that by someone who should be encouraging me to to study a little harder to get the right answer, to not make a mistake when being quizzed, or at the least to understand that there is nothing wrong with not knowing the answer.

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