Lately, out of nowhere, my 3-year-old has been stopping in the middle of a task and declaring in an animated and frustrated whine “I can’t do it!” Whether she is building a castle for her ponies using her magna-tiles, climbing the couch, or cleaning up play-doh, it makes no difference how difficult or fun (or tedious) the job actually is. She simply stops, gets huffy, and declares it game over because she “can’t do it.”
Admittedly, the first few times she said this I was so taken aback, I responded with a shocked “What?! Of course you can!” But I quickly realized this declaration is not actually about her abilities. Sure, she’s 3 now and the whole “impatient impulsive toddler” thing is of course part of the picture- obviously- but O has always been very thoughtful and determined; she’s a girl who gets things done.
I’ve realized what she’s actually venting is her desire for connection. In these moments when she loses her cool, she is usually tired, hungry, hasn’t had enough exercise, or she’s overstimulated (most likely from using her iPad – yes she has an iPad- judge away). It is clear to me she wants a calm, collected, centered voice of reason to help her find not only her command of the task, but her command of her self. She is learning self-control, and I am the person most often in charge of helping her ease those transitions from frustrated to fine.
Now, I tell her “I can see you are having a hard time. It’s ok! Take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take a minute to breath and calm yourself. Then try again. You can do it!” Initially she (hilariously) tries to rush her breathing with an exaggerated puff but she quickly calms down and sure enough, when she resumes the activity and tries again, she succeeds and feels great pride.
I’ve thought a lot about this for many reasons. First of all, I am a “can do” person; I prefer to boost myself up rather than bum myself out. It is my hope that O will have confidence in herself and not be afraid to try, try, and try again. Secondly, there are always going to be things that she can’t do. For real. Whether it’s because she’s not tall enough, old enough, rich enough, or whatever enough. Additionally, as she gets older, she’ll realize there will be days when she can’t- for example- get a run in because things pop up that conspire against her schedule- and she will be glad that she could run and did run all the days prior. I don’t want her to waste her time and energy sweating the things that with some grit, perseverance, and creative thinking can be done.
When I was in 6th grade my homeroom teacher, Ms. Clayton, had us recite a poem (mantra?) every morning:
I’m a can do person. I am a can do person. I’m a can do person. Yes I am.
It is my hope that my daughter will weather any storms- sandcastle creation chaos, school project pressure, hockey tournament intensity, fights with frenemies, you name it– from now until forever with the confidence and character that comes from practicing the process of being a can do person. I hope she can learn to sense the swarm of emotions bubbling up to the surface and find that wonderful way of breathing back to her calm, collected center. She will find a reservoir of cool, can do awesomeness at her core, a deep well of can do determination within herself to draw from and she will say, “I’m a can do person. Yes I am.”