Teaching Children "I Can Do It"

This week Logan has learned something important: I can do it!

Ever since he was small, Logan has always wanted me to do everything for him. Unlike most children who are desperate to do everything for themselves, proclaiming “me do it!”, Logan has always said “Mommy do it” for those things that he didn’t want to do himself. He would try once and fail, but instead of trying again, he would just cry and beg me to do it.

This has come out in his play, putting toys together, learning new games, dressing himself, pretty much with any new skill. He gets frustrated easily if he isn’t able to do something right the first time, and then gets mad if I try to convince him he can do it.

Logan was recently diagnosed with ADHD, shortly after we had to take him out of his new kindergarten because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) handle his behavior. (You can get more details here, here and here.) Until things are straightened out and his diagnoses is complete, therapy is started, and we can find him a new, better school, I am teaching him at home. (Update: school has been found. He starts Monday.)

First alphabet work without my help.

Last year at preschool he began writing the alphabet and numbers. At first I helped him by holding his hand for homework, the same as his teacher did at school. But there never came a moment when he decided to try on his own. He wanted all the help he could get and he made sure I knew there was no way he could do it alone. Ha. Since it was only a few lines of work each day, I let it pass.

After his kindergarten flop, we decided to get him checked to see what the problem might be, as there has always been trouble with his behavior. In the mean time, I went ahead and got him workbooks for pre-writing, alphabet and numbers, so that even though things were up in the air, he was still getting some input. I had already begun teaching him to read.

For about two weeks I helped him; I held his hand as he wrote each new thing, unsure of how to get him to work alone. What pushed me to do it? Seeing Lila show so much ability and interest in her own writing; she has only just begun but already wants and tries to trace the letters on her own. I knew he had the skill but lacked the desire. I also noticed that when I held his hand, he would hold his pencil wrong and pretty much just let me do it.

Copy-work from his readers.

So over last weekend I talked to him about it. I told him it was time to write on his own and that I wasn’t going to hold his hand any more. I told him that I knew he could do it alone since he was older than Lila, and that if she could do it so could he. I reminded him of other things he found out he could do, like go on this certain slide at the park. He never wanted to, but I convinced him that if Scarlett could go on it, he could too. And he does every time we go now. He just needed that little push. As expected, he lost it. He cried and begged me to not make him do it alone. Poor guy. But I had to stay firm in order to get him to make any progress.

Monday morning came with more tears, but with reassurance that he only had to do one line in each book and that with practice it would get easier, plus a sheet of smiley face stickers to reward his efforts, he began. I sat next to him and we took it slow, erasing messy mistakes, and cheering for work well done. I made sure he knew how to hold his pencil properly, how to slant and hold the book, and most importantly, that it was okay to go slow. Neat work is more important than speed right now.

He only did maybe a quarter of what we had been doing, but he did it on his own, and more importantly, he learned that he can do it. It’s now been 10 days and he has gained confidence. He doesn’t fuss when I don’t hold his hand, though he still asks me to, and his work is getting neater.

I write the words in red pen and he traces them – for now.

I think I’ve learned something too: don’t allow my children to give up easily when they find something hard. I thought I was making it easier for Logan by helping him for so long, but in reality, I was holding him back. He just needed that little push to get him going.

So if your child is going through something similar and there is something they need to do but refuse to do alone, even after you know they have the ability and coordination for it, don’t let them give up.

– First, offer lots of encouragement. Tell them that you know they can do it.

– Use positive comparisons. I used the examples of what the girls could do to convince Logan that, since he was older than them and therefore bigger, stronger and smarter, it would be easy for him to do those things too. I made it seem easy, and it helped him get into a more positive frame of mind.

– Avoid negative comparisons. Comparing your children negatively can have the opposite effect of helping them progress. Had I told Logan “Lila can do it, why can’t you?”, I know that he would have put himself down and refused to try at all.

– Use rewards. Rewards work so well, yet for many parents it is an untapped resource. Rewards don’t have to be big either. I just pulled out a sheet of small stickers I had lying around and I put one next to each line he does.

You could use a chart for anything you want them to learn. If the skill is getting dressed or eating neatly, then they would get a sticker on the chart each time they did so. Most children love to see stickers going up as it is something tangible. Each time they see it they are reminded that they succeeded before and can do so again.

If you don’t have stickers, you could draw stars on the chart, or better yet, take your child shopping and pick out the stickers together. Shiny stars or happy smiley faces can transform a plain chart into something exciting.

– Don’t give up on them. At first, you may have to reward for a small part of the skill they are learning. Maybe they can’t yet put a shirt on alone but they can put on their own underwear, so reward them for that.

Mommies, have you gone through this? How did you handle it?

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