We all enter the world convinced we can learn anything and overcome any challenge. Yet many people grow up to be underachieving pessimists, always convinced nothing ever goes right for them, failure is inevitable, and aiming high is a recipe for disaster. Blame the bad influence of mostly well-meaning, but poorly informed, adults.
If you want better for your children, read on to discover how.
Whenever you’re tempted to rush to the rescue, stop and ask yourself two important questions: (1) What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do nothing? and (2) What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do solve the problem? If the answers sound, respectively, like “She’ll get frustrated and cry” and “She’ll still expect someone else to solve all her problems when she’s twenty”—stand back and let her personally discover the satisfaction of conquering a challenge.
If a block tower collapses: “Try again, you’ll get it.” If a child wants to try out for baseball and you’re not sure he’ll qualify: “Sure, go for it if you think you’re ready.” If he does fail to make the team: “You did your best, that’s what counts. I’ll be glad to help you practice so you’ll be ready for it next year.” And say it all with a confident I-believe-in-you smile. It’s not “failure” that picks apart children’s (and adults’) self-esteem: it’s the false belief that “doing it perfectly” is more important than stretching and challenging yourself.
You can warn them to keep away from strangers, or wait a few years to use power tools, without saying “You’ll be kidnapped, you’ll get hurt, you’ll kill yourself” or anything else that implies something bad will happen and no one can stop it.
Phrases that have no place in the wise parent’s vocabulary range from “Can’t you ever get anything right?!” to “Be reasonable; you don’t have a chance of achieving that goal” to “That’s my cute little klutz” to “Here, let me do it for you.” It doesn’t matter if you mean to be helpful or if you were just teasing: all the above convey the impression that you don’t expect your child to ever accomplish much. And they’ll soon believe it themselves.
All the above apply to how you treat yourself as well as your children. Don’t let them hear you saying “I can’t” or “I blew it” or “I’m such an idiot.” If you want them to believe in themselves, remember that (1) they’ll naturally do as you do and (2) they need to believe you’re smart and know what’s what, if they’re going to believe you when you say they can succeed. Besides, optimism on every front makes a happier household!