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Please Stop Saying I Don’t Know How

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My nearly 6 year old was begging me to let her roll out the cookie dough. I told her I was busy. “Not now, it will be messy, I have to show you, it’s tricky...” I didn’t have time to drop what I was doing to help her. She kept asking, I kept saying “Not now” She yelled, “Why are you saying I don’t know how, I DO know how!”

Then, I thought, ‘Oh, whatever, the worst she’ll do is make a big mess… what’s new?’

So, I said, “Yes, go ahead.”

I started doing something in another part of the house, and when I came back, she had perfectly rolled out 10 Christmas cookies. She did indeed make a mess, but not a very big one. Then, she was so satisfied with her work that we high fived and she bounced off to go do something else.

The next day, at the beach, my 3 year old wanted to go beyond the safe lagoon and swim in the ocean. But, the ocean wasn’t looking too inviting. I told her, “No, we can’t, it’s too dangerous.” Here I am, a surfer, I have thousands of hours experience in the ocean. There were about a million people already swimming, she had an inflatable tube, and there were about 10 surf life savers on the beach watching us! But, I was hesitant because I thought she might get knocked around and scared. She kept bugging, so finally, I said, “Ok, let’s go!

She charged. She DID get knocked around. I stayed REALLY close to her. And, what happened? She was fine. She loved it. She begged for more.

Multiple times this week, my kids have asked me if they could do something that I wasn’t sure if they could handle. Ride a bike, go surfing, skateboard, turn the shower on without burning themselves, etc. And, each time, I was blown away over how much they could actually do!

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I’ve heard the saying that children are born with as much fear as there is salt in the food. In other words, they have just enough fear to keep them relatively safe. I mean, you have to use common sense. If it *really* wasn’t wise to roll out cookies or to swim in the shore pound, I would have said so. But, in those situations, it WAS fine! It was just the limitations in my own mind.

The desire for kids to learn and to investigate and to stretch their knowledged is about 100x more intense than it is in adults. Kids are natural learners. It’s how they learn how to walk, talk and do almost everything else without really being ‘taught‘. Haven’t you ever noticed it, kids just ‘do‘ things, with very little guidance. A child’s desire to learn to use their body, is much stronger than their desire to avoid a cut, bump or bruise.

And, what if they really can’t do it?

Let them figure that one out on their own terms. Let them feel the pinch of frustration and failure. We DON’T want our kids avoiding failures in life just for the sake of being too scared to try. In the past, the fear of their failure (of tears) really interfered with me allowing the natural learning process to take place.

And, Sometimes I’m too tired for the natural learning experiences. Learning through trial and error, or natural consequences, can be time consuming and can require a great deal of letting go and patience. If I had been too tired to chase the 3 year old in the ocean, I would have told her “No“. Or, if I had been feeling too bitter about having to clean up another mess in the kitchen that day, I would have told the big kid that she couldn’t roll the cookies.

But, I don’t want any child growing up thinking “I can’t, because I don’t know how“. I’ve seen it way too many times while teaching high school and university students, and it breaks my heart. After a lifetime of a child being told, “You don’t know how” that child starts believing it!

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So here, you go… You can! You can! Even if you fail, I’ll still let you have your learning experience with no judgement from me. I’ll shut up. And, if you fail, I’ll do my best to never say, “See, I told you that you wouldn’t be able to do it” because I know how crushing that feels when someone says that to me. Whether you are able to do it or not, is really not up to me, but I certainly don’t need to be the one there to plant that seed of doubt in you. You go for it! Not only should I stop saying you don’t know how, but I should stop thinking it too.