Hearing the words “I can’t” come out of children’s’ mouths is so horrible. One hint of a struggle or difficulty, and many become frustrated and ready to quit. And you know what? It’s partially our fault. We have sheltered our children for so long that when an adversity comes along, they do not have the knowledge base to push through to the result they want. We, as parents, must fight this. The first thing we have to do is take the words “I can’t” out of our children’s vocabulary. Replace “I can’t” with “I can’t yet…”, or even better, “I think I can.” Let “I dare you to tell me I can’t” become the ultimate goal for your children.
The Little Engine that COULD
I remember my mom reading me The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper (1930), and when my children were young, I read it to them. There are valuable lessons in that book. The cadence of the little engine is unforgettable. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. We all face adversity in our lives, and if you haven’t, hold on tight, because it is coming. Quitting is not an option for us as adults, and it’s not an option for your children, either. It’s okay if your child can’t do something. Facing something they don’t know how to do often triggers a child to say “I can’t,” but we can break that habit by having them say, “I think I can.” I think I can should become our children’s mantra when they are having to dig deep to be successful. The lessons learned in the attempt last a lifetime, even if failure is the end result.
Failure is Not Always Bad
Somewhere along the way, someone started to associate failure as something bad. Failure is not bad. Failure lets us know a path did not work. Thomas Edison tested different metals, alloys, and their combinations thousands of times before he found the one that worked in the incandescent light bulb. Failure gives us a chance to be our children’s cheerleaders. You did it when your children learned how to walk. They fall down, we pick them up, brush off their little fannies, kiss any boo boos, and tell them to try again. We keep doing this until one day they don’t fall down. They figured out the problem, and we got to congratulate them on a job well done. Did you give your toddler that goofy grin and cheer for them when they were learning to walk? The same concept applies as they begin to face life’s bigger challenges. Failures are used to guide children while they learn to do things well on their own. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
The Rewards of a Job Well Done
I often wonder at parents who reward their children for every little accomplishment. There are children who are not motivated to do a good job unless they receive something in return. You can scroll through almost any social media feed and see examples of it. A child does X, they receive Y, and half the time it’s not an age-appropriate Y, it’s something that is appropriate for a young adult or grown-up. You may argue that your child deserves it; my question back to you is, “Why?” Why is it important for them to be rewarded by you? Why can’t the success of whatever they are doing be reward enough? Reward-based behavior is risky. Once the incentive/reward is gone, so, possibly, is the desired behavior. Internally motivated children become driven to do things well because they find satisfaction in what they earn. “I do it, Mommy,” was a staple phrase when my children were little. It was hard sometimes to let them do something on their own, but we would allow them to complete what they were attempting even if it wasn’t exactly how I wanted it done. Use the “I do it” to guide your children when necessary and/or appropriate, but also give them room to try it first on their own. Pride in a job well done is a great motivator.
Love, Love, Love
The one BIG component I haven’t talked about is love, because I assumed (always dangerous) it was a given. You are wasting your time if love is not the main reason you are doing any of the above with your kids. Do things so your children tangibly know you love them. There are 5 Love Languages for Children if you don’t know how to show your children love in a way they would realize it. Find your child’s love language and speak it. Grab your kid and give them a HUGE squeeze. Tell them verbally that you think they are pretty cool. Love is so important because “Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8). Parents mess up from time to time. Love for our children pushes us to help them become the best they can be. I think we can, I think we can, I think we can!
Hey momma, you got this!