CAN'T. CAN'T. CAN'T!
There's NO way!
You'll NEVER make it!
NEVER. NEVER. NEVER!
Powerful words right? Especially to the fragile psyche of a child.
I don't know about you but when I was growing up it was always reiterated to me to keep that negativity out of my thoughts. Not just by my parents but by my teachers and coaches too. We don't say "CAN'T."
Don't use such negative words.
Focus on the positive.
You've probably heard the old saying, "Can't never did anything" or "Never say Never." There are tons of similar ones. Well, from my experiences as a father, I happen to wholeheartedly disagree with those sayings.
I've seen CAN'T do a lot. It's power is impressive. It NEVER ceases to amaze me.
You're probably thinking that I am about to warn you about using these negative words with your children. However, that is not the case at all. I actually think words like CAN'T and NEVER get a bad rap. They can be some of the most motivating and encouraging words you could imagine. It really just depends on your perspective and who/where these words are coming from. Both of my boys have helped me learn this lesson over the past few years.
Don't get me wrong. None of us parents want our children moping around dwelling on the fact that he can't tie his shoes or she can't write her name or a million other things a child might be struggling with. I understand that. I'm not a complete idiot...close...but not complete. At the same time though, I don't think we should be teaching our children that words like can't and never are negative words. I think it's a good thing when a child recognizes that he/she can't do something and it's our job as parents to find a way to teach and motivate them.
I still remember the first time I heard my oldest son Cooper say "I can't."
We were potty training. He was 2.
I instinctively replied, "We don't say I can't."
I was frustrated. He was frustrated.
Potty training was one of our toughest challenges with him. I immediately wondered where he learned to say those words and why he was so easily ready to give up.
Then I said, "You CAN do it. I KNOW you CAN," in the most encouraging voice possible. I could tell that he could feel the positivity but it just didn't motivate him to try harder. This happened often. It was very discouraging for me as I'm sure it was for him. I remember thinking about how my wife and I are two of the most encouraging people I know. I wondered how could he possibly not find motivation in our encouraging words? We worked so hard to create the most encouraging atmosphere possible.
If only I knew the power of can't and never at this point in my parenting adventure...
I made this discovery in the backyard one day a year or so later. It came from my complete and utter desperation to instill a love of sports in my children. We were playing baseball. Hitting from the tee. Cooper was losing interest. He started to notice every grasshopper and love bug in sight. I was losing him fast. The battle between father sports and mother nature was about to be won by mother nature by KO with the help of her interesting little creatures.
That's when this Dad did some quick thinking. I started with a condescending laugh to get his attention. Then, when he looked over at me, I followed it up speaking the words, "You CAN'T hit a home run. There's NO way!" in the same condescending tone with a sneaky smile on my face. In my head I was thinking that those were the least encouraging words I had ever spoken to my son and I had no idea how he would react. Luckily for me, he saw it as a challenge just as I had hoped. At that moment, his face instantly lit up and he replied, "OH YES I CAN!" He stepped up to the tee and knocked one to the fence. I retrieved the ball and chased him to home plate just missing the tag before he got his home run. I dog piled on top of him and made a huge deal about how well he had done. Then I picked him up and we celebrated. He just giggled and beamed with pride. So did I. Cooper wins! Cooper wins!
Daddy wins actually! I never could have imagined how motivating the words "YOU CAN'T" could be for a child. I'm sure all children are not this way and I'm sure if I didn't have such a positive and always encouraging relationship with my children that these words would not have been interpreted in a positive challenging way, but I do... and they were.
To be honest, I don't think more motivating words have ever been spoken in our house. Turns out, my 2 year old, Fletcher, finds motivation in these words as well. Trying to get Fletcher to eat a whole meal of food at the dinner table is like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube. He would take a few bites, lose interest and start stuffing each bite into his cheek like a squirrel storing nuts. Take one guess at our most effective means of getting him to actually chew and swallow those stored nuts?
You guessed it.
Look at him with a shocked look on my face. Gasp aloud. Issue the challenge: "Fletcher! You can't chew up and swallow that bite! I say NO WAY!"
That gullible little joker bites every time. Both literally and figuratively. "I say YES way" he replies. Then he starts chewing his little heart out, which is frustrating. Why on earth does it take a challenge for you to chew up your food, son? Do you enjoy just sitting there holding food in your cheek wasting time at the dinner table? Really?
Are you kidding me? Oh well, I guess I can't complain.
It's safe to say that we use this technique quite often.
When the play room is a wreck: "Oh no boys, we're NEVER gonna get this place clean. I don't think we can do it!"
When hurrying to the bath: "If only you could take your clothes off and get in the bath by yourself before I count to twenty. You CAN'T can you? I don't think so."
When putting on lotion and pajamas or sunscreen: "You CAN'T freeze like a statue. Nope. No way. Not gonna happen. I don't think you can do it."
etc. etc. etc.
It may not work for your kids but it sure works for my little guys. I guess it all depends on their personality. Give it a shot if you'd like, you never know what might work. Remember, It's all in your delivery. I certainly had no idea these words would be so helpful. The next time you think about these words as negative words stop yourself and give them a little credit.
CAN'T. CAN'T. CAN'T.
NEVER. NEVER. NEVER.
A tremendous thank you. You're not so bad after all.