Personal Yardsticks

Dear Friends,

Personal Yardsticks

We’ve talked about self-esteem and about providing our children with the opportunities and experiences they need to develop their interests and their gifts. We’ve talked about being a positive cheerleader for our children — with teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, and Sunday school teachers. We’ve developed lists of positive traits, strong interests, and areas of excellence. We know that children develop self-esteem when they successfully meet challenges, solve problems, and learn new skills. We know that we can’t give our children self-esteem with false praise and overprotection — self-esteem is something that we all have to earn. So how do we gauge our expectations of our children? How do we measure their accomplishments on a realistic scale? How do we support them as they try new things, experience some failures, overcome some obstacles, learn self-confidence, and earn a solid sense of their personal worth?

Here’s the deal: When we give our children challenging opportunities and support them as they try to meet those challenges, we have to make sure that their accomplishments are measured on a personal yardstick as well as a group yardstick. That means that we’re going to look at individual progress and personal accomplishments, not just group comparisons. Our job is to make sure that our children are rewarded for their progress as much as their product. In other words, hard work, determination, persistence, and a “personal best” should be celebrated as much as earning good grades, passing tests, and getting recognition from others.

When we’re trying to do something hard or something new, most of us have an idea of the standard we’re trying to reach, and that standard is very often unrealistic. (Think about dieting!) And what do we do? Instead of adjusting our standard or measuring positive progress, we measure how far we are from perfection and then just give up. We do that to our kids too, and it doesn’t work any better for them than it does for us! Our expectations of their school performance — behavioral and academic — are often too high or too low. We’re measuring their performance against our dreams or our fears instead of their reality. Parents need to focus on the positive and celebrate personal progress — forget about perfection!

Have you ever run a cross-country race? It’s a rigorous, exhausting experience, and it requires great discipline and determination to keep going. What I loved about cross-country was that the fans cheered for every kid coming over the finish line — whether that runner was first or thirty-first. Coaches gave every runner their time, and praised those who had met or exceeded their personal best time — whatever that time happened to be. Cross-country athletes were measured on a personal yardstick. Those who were excellent runners were also measured on a group yardstick — they earned points for the team, represented the school at the big regional meets, and got their pictures in the newspaper. But everyone who worked hard got to be a winner.

Have you ever known a student who got decent grades, passed all the tests, and cruised through school without breaking a sweat or cracking a book? Very bright students need to be measured on a personal yardstick as well — one that is based on what they are capable of doing, not just what the group is expected to do.

Schools measure all students on one yardstick — whether or not they have mastered the skills and knowledge required at their grade level. Parents can measure their children with a personal yardstick — they can reward individual progress and personal victories. So if you have a child who struggles in school, make sure you reward his progress and his accomplishments — even the small stuff. And if you have a child who is capable of high achievement in school, don’t reward him for anything less than that high achievement.

Assignment: Personal Yardsticks
1.Pick something that is measurable — something you can count: number of words spelled correctly on the Friday test, number of times homework assignments and materials came home that week, how many minutes it took to complete homework, number of positive marks on the behavior report card that week, etc.
2.Write down where your child is right now (for example, 10 words out of 20 spelled correctly on average) and where you would like him to be at the end of the quarter (maybe 13 words — remember, we’re not going for perfection!)
3.Take a sheet of graph paper and set up a chart. For the spelling words example, you would put Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and so on across the horizontal axis, and the number 1-20 on the vertical axis. For the homework completion example, you would put each day of the week across the horizontal axis, and the number of minutes on the vertical axis.
4.Keep data — write down the numbers – and have your child enter it on the chart. (Children love to graph their progress — it’s very affirming to them.)
5.Praise and reward progress each week, even if progress is small, and focus on the idea of “personal best”. Slow and steady progress in the right direction is our goal.


Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at and we are thrilled to share her wise words with all of you. Alice is a school psychologist and the author of the amazingly helpful book No More Parents Left Behind. Get the book at:
You can follow Alice on Facebook:

The No More Parents Left Behind Website:

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Helping women around the world get their home organized. Copyright 2001 - 2022 FlyLady and Company, Inc.