Inside: Learn one phrase that will help you build problem solving skills in kids this school year. If your child says, “I can’t” or wants to give up, this is the best response.
As my strong-willed child hopped into the car after school, the scowl on his face said it all. I’d been parenting for less than 2 minutes this afternoon and I could already feel the cloud of frustration between us.
Everything was blurry.
Before backing out of the parking space, I turned to the back seat trying to look as empathetic as possible. “Looks like you had a bad day. Do you want to go to the park?”
He was more despondent than ever. “No, I just want to go home!”
Home it was.
Driving home, I started thinking about how much he loves school, but also how frustrating and challenging it is for him some days.
Sitting for longer than he wants. Following the rules. Learning new skills. All of it can lead to this cloud of frustration that permeates around him.
We returned home (as promised) about 15 minutes later and kicked off our shoes together. It was time to let loose and blow off some steam (for both of us).
Then he saw it. The paper.
“Can I draw on this, mom?” His eyes turned happy and the corners of his mouth widened revealing every single one of his teeth. I immediately smiled back.
“Yep. That’s for you, buddy.”
Earlier that day I picked up some plain paper and a new pen for him to practice writing. As challenging as fine motor is for him, he secretly loves it.
He immediately flipped opened the first blank sheet and began writing random letters, pictures and shapes across the paper.
For a second I breathed a sigh of relief thinking we were past the scowls and cloud of frustration. Then I heard it. The complaining words I cringe hearing every time he says them to me.
“I can’t do it! I give up.”
I knew the best response…
It also happens to be my all-time favorite (and simplest) way to build problem solving skills in kids.
What to say when your kid gives up.
Before I could respond with my golden phrase, he repeated his negative self-talk to me again. This time with more gusto and persistence in his voice. “I can’t do it! I give up!”
There’s a part of me that wanted to respond with something that would fix the problem for him.
“You can do it!”
“It looks totally fine!”
“Just try again.”
Those phrases make me feel better and like I’m doing something, but I don’t find that my son tried any harder.
Instead, I’ve found that he really tries again and works harder when I set the stage for him to solve the problem all on his own (using my golden phrase).
Gently, slowly, deliberately I imagined walking beside him down a winding pathway in the dark woods. Woods that seem a little scary. Woods where you can’t really see what’s in front of you, but you’re going to move forward anyway because you know the person next to you has your back.
This is how I envision my son every time he wants to give up or feels like he can’t do it. He just needs a little guidance to help find his own solution.
I sat down next to him at heart level and gently, slowly, deliberately I said my one phrase into his ear.
“Show me the hard part.”
He pointed to the part of the picture where he was writing his name and announced, “HERE!”
Smack dab in the middle of writing his name, he couldn’t seem to get the “S” perfect.
Once I knew where the hard part was for him, I immediately started describing the situation using SAY WHAT YOU SEE® (SWYS) – a technique from Language of Listening®, the 3-part parenting framework that I use.
“You were writing your name down on this paper. You finished the A, M, E and then when you got to the next letter you were stuck. It looks like you wanted the “S” to be just right. I see you erased it and wrote it again.”
He nodded affirming what I said. “Yes, I can’t do it. I can’t do the “S”.
I continued with SWYS. “You wrote first part of the “S” and then it looks like you aren’t sure what to do next. There must be some way you can learn to write the letter “S” as well as you want to.”
He said matter-of-factly, “I need to write more of the letter “S”.
Why this works.
When I see kids say “I can’t” or want to give up or fall straight into whining, I love saying “Show me the hard part” because it gives you – the parent or teacher – a lot of useful information.
It helps you know right away what part is easy and what part is especially hard for the child. It also helps the child recognize what area is creating their biggest challenge and it breaks it down into a smaller challenge.
I could’ve easily seen all letter writing as a challenge for my son. But it turned out the only thing that was bothering him was how to write an “S”.
By describing the situation using SAY WHAT YOU SEE, it immediately becomes more manageable for you and the child.
This simple technique puts you in the neutral zone with kids where you can all agree on what is happening in the here and now.
Kids are less likely to get defensive or try to prove to you that they “really can’t do it.” (This is often what happens when we say ‘You can do it’ or ‘Just try again.’ Kids will dig in their heels to prove they really, really can’t do it.)
Here’s the best part.
“Show me the hard part” allows the child to solve the problem. This is the best learning of all. The kind of learning where kids are more likely to remember how to get out of the dark and unfamiliar woods.
Yesterday, my son was working on another project at the kitchen table. This time it was drawing faces with tails inside of trees (don’t ask, lol).
He said, “I can’t do it, mom. I can’t draw these trees.”
And before I could get to heart level and say “Show me the hard part,” he stopped me and said, “But that’s okay. I can just draw more trees. I’ll just try again.”
This time, the cloud of frustration that made everything blurry was notably absent.
And those dark and scary woods?
He found a way to move forward anyway.
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