May 2009

How to Raise a Can-Do Kid

Author: Mary Frances Stocks

Last weekend, my family and I took a spur of the moment trip to the North Carolina mountains to go skiing. The kids had never seen snow, and I had not put on a pair of skis in nine years. I was a little nervous and a lot excited to see my children learn something new. Sometimes, as parents, we forget to embrace the moments and we end up just living through them. This time I was not going to miss a thing. I wanted to see the fear on their faces and the excitement and the frustrations that come with learning something new.

My husband thought he was going to teach them, but I put a firm foot down and said, “No, they are going to learn from someone else. They are going to have nothing but encouragement and praise for every failed attempt and get up when they fall.”

I wish that we, as parents, were better at that process. What would it be like if children were encouraged to attempt things and possibly fail, yet cheered for trying…not just cheered for doing it right? In the end, I think we would see more inventions and more creativity. I think we would hear more laughter.
I read somewhere recently about a mother who had a child who always said, “I can’t do (fill in the blank)!” Every homework assignment was too hard. The child got lazy and whiny. The mother was frustrated. She knew she had to break this cycle of negative self-talk.

She decided that she and her husband were part of the problem. If they could change their approach, perhaps the child would change his response. First thing she did was asked her son to help her set the table—an age-appropriate task for the kindergartener. She began by asking him to put the plates all around. Next, she gave him spoons, then forks, then knives, then glasses (nice breakable ones) then napkins. After each task was completed, she commented in some way about how nice it looked. When the whole job was done, she took her son by the shoulders and showed him his accomplishment. Then she said the magic phrase, “You know what? You are my CAN-DO KID.” She planted the seed of confidence.
Later in the night when her child whined about not being able to do something, she smiled and repeated his new title. “You are my CAN-DO KID.” Over time, he started to believe it and even call himself that occasionally. The whining basically disappeared. Sure, there are days when a new task scares him and he might regress, but the parents took the steps to help him believe in himself.

I thought of this CAN-DO KID when I sent my children off to ski school. Everything was foreign to them: the feel of the snow, the cold wind and all the cumbersome clothes—the odd experience of having their feet in heavy boots and clicking them into slippery skis. Their balance was off and their confidence was shaky. I left them in the good hands of an instructor who was going to teach through encouragement. This instructor was not going to say, “Get Up! Stop whining. You’re acting like a baby. How old are you? Are you sure you are not two? Take off your skis; we are going home. If you are not going to at least try, then let’s just go.”

I know that my husband or I would utter something like that… We are not perfect and we make parenting mistakes every day; however, I would like to think that I learn from them and try to improve. As I skied away from the kids with my husband, I secretly wished I was staying in ski school, because I felt a bit rusty as well. I wanted someone to be my cheerleader and tell me that I was doing great and that they never would have known that I had not been on skis for nine years. Instead, my husband said to me, “It’s like riding a bike. It will all come back to you.” Basically, he was telling me that I was a CAN-DO KID. I just wanted some praise to go with it, I guess.

After ski school, we went to retrieve the kids. They were cold and beaming. My eight-year-old son was excited to show us what he had learned and was eager to hit the slopes with us. My five-year-old daughter said, “Mom, watch me. I am so great. I think I am an expert.” Music to my ears. She showed me her new skill and fell down and got up and asked if I saw how good she was. I suppose I just answered my earlier question of what our kids would be like if we cheered them for trying and failing rather than cheering for only doing it right… They would be CAN-DO KIDS.

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