Around the time my son, Wolfy turned three years old, he started saying something strange. “I’m not very good at that.” It’s not a very unusual thing to hear from an older kid, but coming from Wolfy, I was surprised.
Where did he internalize the concept that he wasn’t good at something?
I am careful to never qualify his experiences or abilities for him. And I’ve even started to watch if I say things like that about myself and I don’t. So I don’t think he is getting this phrase from me.
The first time he said, “I’m not good at that.”
I asked him, “Why don’t you think you’re good at this?”
He replied, “I’m just not.”
The way he said it just sounded so final.
As if, “I’m not good at that” was closing a door, and never trying to open it again. And it’s true. As the months have passed, I’ve noticed that when he thinks he’s not instantly good at something, he won’t try it again. Where have I failed my little guy? Where is the resiliency I thought we had been building this whole time?
Recently another curious thing happened. A friend of mine came over and brought a puzzle for Wolfy. It was one of those ones with the shapes that go back into their places. “I’m good at puzzles,” he declared proudly then proceeded to complete the puzzle in under a minute. It was like he could have done it blindfolded. I wasn’t surprised but my friend was so surprised that I think she kind of wanted to take the puzzle back because it was too easy. Then Wolfy took out his favorite puzzle, a 54 piece one that was made from a photograph of himself.
“I’m really good at puzzles. Let’s do this one,” he said. The photograph puzzle is not easy for Wolfy. Actually, he needs some help putting it together. It takes a long time and a lot of effort. But something about it still allows him to feel successful and to believe he’s “really good at puzzles” even ones that take a lot of work. I know I can’t change all of Wolfy’s things that he’s “not good at” into things that he believes he is, but I just want to change his personal narrative, the voice in his head saying that phrase.
Yesterday I told him we were going to go to a playground with a climbing wall. He said, “I’m not good at climbing.”
There is was again. But this time I was ready for it.
I told him, “It’s not that you aren’t good at climbing, it’s just that you are still learning about climbing and you haven’t had much of a chance to do it yet. Instead of saying, ‘I’m not good at that’ you can tell yourself ‘I’m still learning about that.’”
I’m not sure if our conversation will change the voice inside his mind but I think it’s a start.
He’s far too young to already shut doors for himself and I want him to believe that he really can do anything he sets his mind to.
We went to the playground and you know what…Wolfy tried out the climbing wall and with a little bit of help, he made it to the top after all.