When Your Child Won’t Do Anything They’re Not Good At

 

What This Situation Is Like for Parents

 

Everyone knows that practice makes perfect. But when you see your child refuse to do something because they’re not good at it…

… When they cry and cry when you ask them to try to ride their bike without training wheels

…Or when they will not approach a group of kids near them, choosing so they sit by themselves instead…

You worry that your child will never learn to face challenging things in life.

And talking about it only seems to make your child shrink away from you.

 

What This Situation Is Like for Children

 

For children who already feel bad about themselves, doing something that they’re not good at only reinforces all of their negative feelings.

They don’t want to make those already-uncomfortable feelings bigger

So when their parents encourage them to just TRY something — when they truly believe that they can’t DO that thing… they dig in their heals because they simply can’t handle further proof of how incapable they are. 

All of those feelings become overwhelming… and they break down. 

 

 

How It Usually Goes

When Your Child Won’t Do Anything They’re Not Good At

Scenario:

Paul and his family are going to have a family game night. The whole family wants to play the same game but Paul refuses to play because he’s lost the past few times they’ve played. He says he will only play a game that he thinks he can win. 

 

Mom: Paul, you can’t always play games that you can win.

Paul: Fine. But I don’t have to play this one.

Mom: But how will you ever get better if you don’t try?

Paul: I don’t care about getting better.

Mom: What kind of attitude is that? You’ll never get anywhere in life if you think like that. 

Paul: It’s a stupid game.

Mom: Maybe, Paul, but you give up on everything…

Paul: No I don’t!

Mom: Honey, I know it doesn’t feel good to lose. But you have to try.

Paul: I’m not trying! You can’t make me!

Mom: But it’s affecting all of us just because you don’t want to play. 

Paul (in a nasty tone): I don’t want to be with any of you anyway. Just play without me. (He storms away.) 

 

A More Effective Way to Respond

When Your Child Won’t Do Anything They’re Not Good At

 

Scenario:

Paul and his family are going to have a family game night. The whole family wants to play the same game but Paul refuses to play because he’s lost the past few times they’ve played. He says he will only play a game that he thinks he can win. 

 

Mom: Paul, you can’t always play games you can win.

Paul: Fine. But I don’t have to play this one.

Mom: But how will you ever get better if you don’t try?

Paul: I don’t care about getting better.

Mom (realizing that Paul is not in a logical place, she takes a deep breath and slows down her speech): Paul, I hate losing.

 

CALM

Paul’s mom is upset by Paul’s attitude. She gets incredibly frustrated whenever she sees him give up so easily.

But she also knows that her frustration will only make Paul feel worse, so she calms herself down so she can focus on giving Paul what he needs. 

 

Paul (looks up): Huh?

Mom: Yeah… when I lose sometimes I feel really bad about myself.

Paul: You do?

Mom: Yeah. It’s like I can’t do anything right. Have you ever felt that way?

 

CONNECT

Paul’s mom is demonstrating that she can see the situation from Paul’s perspective. To get there, she asks herself, “How would I feel if I lost something more than once and didn’t have confidence to begin with?”

If she doesn’t connect with him, Paul will remained in Yuck and will not be open to any problem solving or other positive behavior. 

 

Paul: Yeah.

Mom: What’s it like for you when you lose?

Paul: I just feel so dumb.

Mom: That’s the worst. (She stays silent for a few minutes.) How do you think you could get rid of that feeling?

Paul: I could never play again.

Mom: Yeah, that’s one option. (Stays silent again.) What would happen if you never tried anything new?

Paul: I’d never feel dumb.

Mom: That is true. And you’d probably also never feel good at anything again either.

Paul (is silent.)

Mom: You know you have to start by not being good at something to GET good at something. Do you know how many times you fell as a baby before you could walk?

Paul: No.

Mom: You did! (She tells Paul a funny story from when he was a baby. They laugh together and Paul seems calmer.I know it doesn’t feel good not to win. (She pauses.) Can you try to play with us anyway? And if you lose, come to me. And we’ll talk about it.

Paul (sighs): Fine.

 

CORRECT

Paul’s mom is able to offer him a tool for how to handle it if Paul does lose again. And because she had just connected with Paul and demonstrated that she could handle his emotions, he is open to a solution. If his mom hadn’t helped him through his Yuck, he probably would have continued to resist. 

 

 

How to Make In-the-Moment Parenting Work

 

Though Paul’s mom used Calm, Connect, Correct, the “proactive deposits” discussed in the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap will make all of the difference in how this situation plays out in the moment.

If your child won’t do anything they’re not good at and you want to help become more resilient, remember:

 

Depositing into CALM

Paul’s mom will not be able to stay calm if

a.) her own biological or emotional “needs accounts” are low (if she focuses on the possibility that Paul will stay stuck forever)

b.) she has the expectation that Paul should be comfortable with the fact that he won’t be good at new things at first

When she makes sure her own needs are met and sets realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, Paul’s mom is more likely to be able to stay calm.

See Step 1 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap for help meeting your needs and setting expectations proactively so you can stay calm.

 

Depositing into CONNECT

Paul’s mom will be able to connect if

a.) she respects that all behavior has a reason and

b.) she understands those reasons (in this case, that Paul needs someone to understand his “irrational” fear before he will be able to think differently about the situation)

When she becomes comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, she will be able to connect more effectively.

See Step 2 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap to learn the reasons for children’s behavior so you can connect more effectively.

 

Depositing into CORRECT

Paul’s mom will be able to correct behavior by offering a tool if

a.) She has demonstrated consistently in the past that she respects what Paul has to say, even if she doesn’t agree with him

b.) She has made enough deposits into Paul’s emotional needs that suggesting the he try something he’s afraid of doesn’t overwhelm him

When she demonstrates that she means what she says and when she makes deposits into Paul’s emotional needs PROACTIVELY, she will be able to correct Paul’s behavior more effectively.

See Step 3 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap  to learn more about improving your influence so you can correct behavior.