The scene is not new. I’m standing in the front entrance watching my four-year-old daughter struggle with her winter boots.
“I can’t do it!”
I offer to help.
“NO!” she shouts at me, “I want to do it myself!”
“But you just said you can’t do it.” I retort, hoping that this little verbal nudge will motivate her to put her boots on.
She might be tired, or perhaps she’s frustrated, or maybe she’s looking for some control. Regardless, the issue is not that she can’t put her boots on. She actually can. She’s done it over one hundred times before. She’s been doing it since she was two!
This train of thought reminds me of something I can say to motivate her…
“You can do it! I know you can. You’ve done it before.”
She starts to whimper.
“But, I just can’t do it right now.”
She sobs. My heart sinks. I feel awful. This isn’t about the boots. This is about her needing her mommy’s emotional support. It was as if the sky opened and a bright light shone down on the situation at hand.
I realized that in my effort to be encouraging, I was actually doing the opposite. By saying, “You can do it” I have placed an invisible pressure on my child. She may be thinking that if she actually can’t do it, that she would be disappointing me.
After a moment of guilt, I recover the situation.
“It sounds like you’re getting frustrated. You almost have it on.”
“My foot’s stuck!”
“Do you want me to help so your foot’s not stuck?”
“Would you like to try standing up and push your foot in that way.”
She whimpers, “Okay….”
She stands up, pushes one foot into a boot. Then she smiles.
“That’s hard work you’re doing.”
“Yah, I’m working hard.”
She casually pushes her foot into the other boot. Beaming, she walks to the door.
As a trained child care professional, I know that catch phrases like “you can do it” have minimal impact on a child and their behaviour. Unfortunately, as a busy (and sometimes stressed) mommy, I forget my early childhood training and do whatever comes to mind.
I guess this is one of the reasons why I called my blog The Deliberate Mom… being mindful, reflective and intentional is how I aspire to parent my children.
So I am going to work hard to remove the “you can do it” catch phrase from my vocabulary. It may take a little longer to find the right words but being emotionally supportive for my daughter is far more important than getting to gymnastics class on time.
What about you? Do your kids shut down when you encourage them to do something? Would you stop telling your kids “you can do it”?