Positive Teaching Moments

 “That’s tricky, but you can do it.”

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“That’s easy, you can do it!” 

But what if the child can’t do it? Then they have just failed to do something ‘easy,’ which is pretty discouraging. And if they do succeed with the task, they don’t feel good about it, because they’ve merely accomplished something easy.

When offering encouragement, it’s generally more effective to acknowledge that a task may be difficult. Saying,

“Riding a bike is hard, but I believe you can do it” validates a child’s struggle, while still encouraging them to keep trying.

“You can’t do it, yet.”

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Children often get discouraged and say,

“I can’t do it.” 

Try responding with,

“You can’t do it, yet. It will take more practice.” Adding the word “yet” helps reframe the struggle. It is not that your child is incapable; they just haven’t quite mastered something yet.

“You worked so hard on that!”

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It is tempting to tell our children they are smart, beautiful, and perfect. The trouble with these well-meaning compliments though, is that they praise fixed traits over which a child has no control. Children may begin to worry about letting us down. If they get a bad grade, does that mean they aren’t smart anymore? Next time your child brings home a good grade, try praising their effort instead of their intelligence. Try saying,

“You studied for hours for that test and you got an A!” instead of “You got an A, you’re so smart!” This puts the focus on effort; something a child can control, and helps link hard work with success.

“Do you remember when you couldn’t tie your shoes?”

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Children sometimes get frustrated and don’t want to try new things or keep trying. Remind your child of all of the things they have already learned and accomplished. If they are struggling with learning to read and feeling like they will never be good at it, take a moment to talk about something they used to struggle with, but is now easy for them. Talk about how tying their shoes was so hard for them last year, and now they don’t even have to think about it, it’s so easy for them. This reminds your child that new things are hard, but they get easier with effort and practice.

“Whoops! I messed up.”

Some children are naturally more anxious and afraid of failure than others, but the good news is we can do a lot to help our children embrace new challenges and see that ‘failing’ is just a step in the learning process.

Take a break from Instead Try
How we react to our own failures in front of our children has just as much impact as what we say to them. If you verbally berate yourself for your mistakes, your child will see that messing up is not acceptable, no matter what you say to him about his own mistakes. Admitting you’ve messed up and showing that it’s manageable can go a long way in normalizing failure as part of the learning and growing process. Did you forget about the rice on the stove and burn it? Say something like,

Whoops, I got busy and forgot the rice. Well, I’ll make some pasta instead. Next time I’ll set a timer.”


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