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  • 6 Things to Say (and Not to Say) When Your Child Says 'I Can't'

    Is your child easily discouraged by failure and difficulty? Try these tips, mom
    by Jillianne E. Castillo .
6 Things to Say (and Not to Say) When Your Child Says 'I Can't'
  • It’s difficult to see your child heartbroken and sad from losing a competition or failing to get along with the other kids at the playground. But, don’t let these moments slip away, mom. 

    One of the best things we can teach our children is the ability to deal with the feelings of disappointment and pain that come with failure. And these are excellent opportunities to teach your child that failure and rejection are part of the process of growing up and being better. They need to know that effort, and a willingness to learn makes them smarter and more capable of reaching a goal.

    “The ability to tolerate imperfection — that something is not going exactly your way — is oftentimes more important to learn than whatever the content subject is,” says Dr. Amanda Mintzer, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

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    Here are phrases you can say to comfort your child while teaching him how to handle failure:


    1. Don’t say “it’s okay” right away. 
    Our first instinct when our child feels sad is to cheer him up. “It’s invalidating to brush off a child’s feelings of frustration and disappointment,” says Dr. Mintzer. Instead, empathize by listening first and responding with “I see you’re really disappointed, I know you really wanted to do better.”

    2. Say “It’s tricky, but I believe you can do it.”
    With good intentions, adults tend to say, “Madali lang ‘yan, anak” in the hopes of encouraging a child to succeed at a task, such as learning to ride a bike. Telling your child that a task he struggles with is “easy” can discourage him. 

    Next time, try the opposite and say “Hindi madaling matutunan pero alam kong kaya mo!” Validating your child’s struggle encourages him and builds his confidence when he does succeed at the task.

    “When offering encouragement, it’s generally more effective to acknowledge that a task may be difficult,” says Christina Clemer, a certified Montessori teacher, in an article for Motherly.

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    3. Don’t say “Mas magaling ka pa sa nanalo” or “Kawawa naman anak ko.” 
    Phrases like the above instill a victim mentality in your child. What you want is to empower him to do better. “Rejection, failure, and unfairness are part of life. Getting cut from the soccer team or failing a class doesn’t make your child a victim,” Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, writes in an article for Forbes.  

    4. Say “Do you remember when you learned to tie your shoes?” 
    Clemer advises, “If he is struggling with learning to read and feeling like he’ll never be good at it, take a moment to talk about something he used to struggle with, but is now easy for him. This little trip down memory lane reminds your child that new things are hard, but they get easier with effort and practice.”  

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    5. Say “I mess up, too.” 
    Let your child know that it's okay to fail. A good way to do this is to talk about your struggles or the struggles of other people your child looks up to, says Gail Heyman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, in an article for Psychology Today.  

    Say your child has a favorite home-cooked meal, for example. Share how many times you did it with poor results to prepare the dish your child loves. Practice it every day too, adds Clemer. At home, if you burn the toasted bread, acknowledge it and voice out loud what you could have done to avoid it (“I should have watched it more closely”). 

    6. Say “Should we think of things you can do differently?”  
    Failure is a balance of acceptance and change, saysDr. Mintzer. “It’s about accepting that the situation is what it is and building frustration tolerance while also asking, ‘Can we change something in the future. Can we learn from this?'” 

    “Really get him brainstorming,” says Vickie Falcone, author of You Can't Make Me: How to Parent With More Connecting and Less Correcting, to Parents. “The more possible solutions he can come up with, the better.” It doesn’t matter if it’s silly, say “That’s one thing, what else?” You can also give your suggestions by saying, “Do you think it would work if…?”

    Build your child's problem-solving skills and resilience. Ask what she can learn from the experience and how she can do better.

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