Hearing these words from your child are heartbreaking. As a parent of three ranging from ages 2-8, I can say that I have already heard these phrases. Even my two year old frequently says “I can’t.” The way I respond makes a difference.
I want all of my children to grow up to be confident, independent, caring adults. In order for that to happen, I need to help them build positive self-esteem. I also need to balance that without over-inflating their ego. Here are some tips I follow:
Praise when they really deserve it. This means really looking at what they do and praising them for a job well done (age appropriate of course). For example, my two year-old colors inside a large circle and I say, “Great job staying inside the circle” and give a high five or hug. If my five year-old drew a circle and then colored in the circle, I could say “Awesome” and again give a high five or hug. If my eight year-old drew a person with clothes, I could say “Terrific” and (surprise) a high five or hug. Notice, I not only give verbal praise but some sort of physical affection as well.
Notice what your kid enjoys doing and point it out, even if they have not mastered it yet. For example, I may hear my eight year-old singing but doing so slightly off tune. I may say “Hmmm, you seem to really like to sing.” That’s it! I won’t say “Beautiful singing” if it is not true. That’s not helpful. Just commenting on what she seems to like to do will make her feel good.
Teach your child how to do something you are good at. For example, for a little one show her how to hammer using a toy. Then as she ages, teach her how to use a real one. Mastering skills builds confidence. Have patience while doing this. Remember it can take numerous times.
Don’t do everything for your kids. If your child says “I can’t,” help them but make sure they are still the one doing. For example, if my son says he can’t go across the monkey bars by himself, I provide physical support but he still has to use upper body strength.
Let your child teach you something. This can be something such as a song, how to draw something, or even something they learned at school. You may be surprised at what they know.
Lastly, encourage your child to take a break when frustrated but then return to the task. Giving up shouldn’t be an option.
These same tips work for all ages. No matter what age or what your child says, everyone wants their loved ones positive attention. (It works for adults too)
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