Oh! To destroy the positive thinking of a child.

My daughter is four years old. She's learning to speak; she's learning to interact with the world. At times, she becomes frustrated with the way the real world conspires against her and will throw up her hands and declare, "I can't do it!" This is the usual exclamation when the belt she's toting around the house gets stuck under a chair, or a package of crackers is just too difficult to open. Her mother has instituted a program of positive thinking when ever adversity befalls our little girl. Like the little train that could, my wife coaches, "You can do it! Keep trying!" Our daughter has picked up this mantra and now repeates it when things don't go her way in the real world.

From time to time, we let her out of the house to run and play in the yard. The ever ominous warning to stay out of the road is quickly yelled when her trajectory and speed indicate that, indeed, the road is her destination. Lately, she has taken to crawling in our mini-van and playing hide and seek when we come tell her it's time to go inside. She'll duck down behind the third row seats and call out for us to find her. Once found, she'll find some other excuse to remain outside. This is usually accompanied by a pleading, "Just a minute!"

Yesterday, fed up with the constant struggle to get her to come inside, I decided to lock the van and take the keys inside. Soon, she was again let outside and proceeded as usual toward the van. She tried the driver's door and found it locked. After trying the door handle several times, she moved to the driver side sliding door calling out to herself, "keep trying!" That door didn't open either, so she moved around to the passenger side calling out to herself, "keep trying! You can do it!" After trying all four doors, she called out to her mother and I with as much exasperation as ever, "I can't do it! I can't do ANYTHING!"

Sure, life will have many bleak moments. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can't do it. This time, it was I that destroyed that positive attitude. It was I that caused all the work her mother had done to build self esteem in our child to fade. Up until this point, whatever it was that we said she could do, she really could do. Yesterday, she attempted to use that attitude to solve a problem. Yesterday, she discovered that even her parent's advice can be a lie.

Broke my heart.

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Comment by Roger Rotge on November 29, 2008 at 12:28pm
Thank you for the advice, guys. I don't feel as heartbroken now :)
Comment by Nance Confer on November 29, 2008 at 8:26am
Reading the other comments makes me want to include a caveat that I assume you wouldn't be any part of just setting up frustrating situations to teach some sort of life lesson. Things are difficult enough when you are little without any of that nonsense.

Nance
Comment by Nance Confer on November 29, 2008 at 8:22am
Sigh. . . being a parent is so hard.

The idea that "I can do it" is fine, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go far enough. There are the moments when the car is locked and we can't get in. It happens.

What to do about it, that's the question? Do we fall apart and cry and fuss? Or do we move on to the next amazingly fascinating thing that's passing by, like the cat? Or do we figure out how to fix whatever is broken or open whatever is locked or ask for help?

Learning when to do what is hard work and that's OK. It is OK for your daughter to be exposed to frustration, for you and your wife to help her when needed and to acknowledge that something is not available when it's not.

And it's OK not to kick yourself when you don't get every parenting moment right every time. We all do that! :)

Pick yourself up and stop regretting and figure out how you will have a better approach to share next time. Something like: "I can solve this problem, if it's possible, and, if not, Dad and Mom will help me, and we will do it together, if it's possible, and, if not, we'll figure out a way around the problem together."

Too long a mantra? :)

How about? "May I help you with that?" "Do you want to do that yourself or should we do it together?" "Well, this is broken, let's go find something else to play with."

Happy parenting! :)

Nance
Comment by Reverend Slim / Michael Ham on November 29, 2008 at 7:38am
No Roger...what your daughter discovered is the reality that some problems really are not solvable and that some aspirations will not be achieved. A positive attitude includes the willingness to be honest with oneself and to accept the satisfaction of having given a good and worthy attempt.

The instillation of the mindset that "everybody is a winner" (the new way of thinking about teaching children the lie that there is room for everyone to win) is warping the effort of competition and reward in our young people. Why would a child seek to do his/her very best if a half hearted effort achieves the same end?

"Yesterday, she discovered that even her parent's advice can be a lie."

No...I don't think so Roger..your daughter took one step closer to learning the truth about life...you give it your all...but sometimes there are things you still cannot have or achieve. This is being realistic...honest with oneself. It is the basis for self reliance rather than self delusion as a method of reaching for the realistically attainable.
Comment by Deborah Mitchell on November 29, 2008 at 7:36am
Nah. Kids are so resilient. Many kids just look for alternatives (as in places to hide, ways to get in). Because she was easily frustrated this one time doesn't mean you hurt her blossoming "self-esteem." Besides, you don't really want to raise a kid who thinks (erronously) that she CAN do anything she wants. Not only is that bad for society and schools, it's not good for the kid either.

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