Last week I took the boys rollerskating as part of a “healthy family” initiative going on at Zip’s school. I hadn’t been rollerskating in years and when I showed my husband pictures later, he assured me that the rink hadn’t changed at all since he was a kid, right down to the same shag-carpeted benches. It was all very retro.
Zip insisted on rollerblades (that part was a little less retro). I helped him strap them on and, although he had never been on skates before in his life, he stood, confidently proclaimed, “This isn’t so hard!” and wobbled his way over to the rink.
I was pretty sure Bee wasn’t ready for rollerblades and mistakenly – mistakenly, people! – thought rollerskates would be much easier. Four wheels, how hard can that be? The answer: Very.
We slowly made our way to the rink and, with one hand in mine and another against the wall, Bee began working his way around the rink. It was painful. He swooned and swerved and jerked. He fell and I helped him up. He fell again. I tried holding him under the armpits to guide him, but I had a pair of skates on myself and was having a hard time keeping myself upright, much less myself and a 45-pound prechooler. I glanced up and saw just how far we still had to go, if we had any hope of getting off this rink. I looked down and saw Bee’s face, nervous and concerned.
“This is hard, isn’t it, Bee?”
He nodded his head.
“Well you know what? You can do hard things.”
If you are one of the million people following Glennon Melton’s amazingly amazing blog, Momastery, this is probably a familiar phrase. We can do hard things. It has become a mantra to many and I’ve realized it is a great mantra to teach our kids. YOU can do hard things.
“I can,” Bee told me. “I can.”
One step (roll?) at a time, we made our way to the far side of the rink, where we rolled our way out and onto the much friendlier carpet. Then I promptly paid $2 to rent him a “skate mate,” which is sort of like a kid-size walker on wheels. The rink staff let us have it even though Bee was over the height limit. Clearly they had seen his skating and felt our pain.
On the way home, Zip raved about what an amazing skaters he was. Zip was certain he was the fastest kid at the party and lamented the fact we don’t own a rink because they are being deprived of the opportunity to become the best skaters in the world. (No confidence problems with that one.)
“Well,” I said, walking that fine line between supporting his spirit and encouraging humility, “there were a lot of fast kids there. And you did a great job for your first time. I’m glad you guys had so much fun!”
I thought about how we hold up mirrors to our kids, everyday, with the stories we tell them about themselves. What do they see reflected? It becomes part of how they see themselves.
“You know what? I love how you weren’t afraid to try something new. You had never skated before, but you just gave it your best and had fun. You really believed in yourself…
“And you, Bee, you just didn’t give up! Skating was so hard at first. Some kids may have sat down and cried and given up. You could have said it was too hard and insisted I pick you up and carry you, but you didn’t. You were determined! You persevered – that is when you don’t give up, even though something is really hard. You just kept trying, and you did it!”
In the rearview mirror, I caught a glimpse of his grin.
The next morning, as they recounted the evening’s events to their dad, Bee told him how hard it was. “Lots of kids would’ve cried,” he said. “But I didn’t. I just kept trying. And I got a skate mate and it was my favorite in the world.”
Sometimes reflecting determination and perseverence back to kids is hard, especially for those little ones who give up more easily. But we can all encourage our kids to believe they can do hard things. Even if we need to start small, if we keep an eye out, there will be opportunities to reflect our kids’ efforts back to them, and help them grow their belief in themselves.
4 tips for teaching kids they can do hard things:
1. Provide opportunities.
Instead of saying, “That will be too hard,” let them try. Offer activities that will stretch or challenge them a bit.
2. Step back.
See what your child can do on her own. If your child is getting discouraged, rather than ask “Do you need help?” ask if she would like help. One of the best ways to help children master new skills – and feel a sense of mastery – is through something called “scaffolding.” This is when parents provide just enough support to help a child accomplish a task, but no more. Over time, support is gradually reduced and the child becomes more independent.
3. Take a break.
Just like with adults, frustration generally doesn’t set the stage for optimal performance. At the same time, many parents worry that letting their child “give up” on a challenging task sends the wrong message. When you notice frustration getting in the way, suggest taking a break for a few minutes and then come back to the task later.
4. Comment on effort, not results.
Research has shown that constantly praising kids for being “smart” can backfire in the long run by making kids wary of taking risks. Constantly telling a child how “amazing” they are at something might have the same result. Instead, as your child takes on a challenge, use words that she can carry with her beyond that task. “Wow, you are really focused.” “You are trying really hard. This is tough, but you aren’t giving up!” And, of course, “You can do hard things.” Reflect your child’s grit and tenacity back to her, so she can see it in herself.
How do you encourage your kids to do hard things?