At the park my three kids run, climb, jump and play as most kids do. I like watching them as they test their own limits and discover new capabilities. My oldest daughter has been practicing the monkey bars and can do them very well now. My son enjoys climbing & jumping off things, which make me nervous at times. He is fearless, loves it and has yet to be hurt doing it. This particular day he was climbing one of those nets that look like spider webs. My very determined 2.5 year old loves to keep up with her brother. She actually does well keeping up with both her older siblings. This time, she wanted to climb as high as her brother.
My son breezed to the top but she was having a hard time. Then it happened. She yelled to me, “MOM! I can’t climb this.” And jumped down. I replied, “You can climb it if you try again.” She said “No, I cannot.” At that moment, I realized something. I use the word “can’t” all the time.
You CAN’T cross the street without holding an adults hand.
You CAN’T run in a parking lot.
You CAN’T jump on the bed.
You CAN’T watch TV if you don’t finish your dinner.
You CAN’T jump in a mud puddle in that dress.
The words we choose really can shape how other’s feel. Of course we know this, otherwise name-calling wouldn’t be a big deal. But I never thought of how using the word “can’t” affects my children. If I had rephrased my typical phrases in a different way, would Ellie doubt herself while climbing? Or would she know she could push her limits? Or would she realize she reached her limit and be able to express that better?
I knew I needed to encourage her to try again. I wanted her to know that she CAN do things if she tries. Sometimes we don’t always succeed, but I didn’t want her give up that quickly. I said, “You’ll never know if you can get that high unless you try again.” I felt the other moms at the park stare at me. Why would she convince her daughter do this? She already said she can’t. What if she isn’t comfortable doing it? I ignored the looks and kept on coaching my youngest to try again.
My little determined girl got back up and tried again. I smiled and encouraged her. The other moms watched her too. She did climb one more level up before getting worn out. I congratulated her. Her pride showed in her happy smile. I saw the other moms at the park smile at her as well. She just needed a little push to gain her confidence and now she will be stronger next time.
That afternoon I encouraged all three kids to try push themselves. It made me smile along with them to see them try harder and have more confidence. My goal is to stop saying “you can’t” and to be thoughtful in my wording with my kids. The constraints that the word “Can’t” potentially creates is unsettling to me. It boxes you in if you let it.
Yes, it’s hard to stop and think about everything we say before saying it; however, our chosen words are shaping our kids’ lives. If we want them to be the best they can be, we have to start with the way we speak and pick language that will have positive effects on their lives. A little change like limiting the word “can’t” from your vocabulary can help a lot.