“I can’t do it!
My gosh, there’s nothing that hurts me more than hearing my kids say that. It’s not the give-up fast “can’t do it”. Rather it’s something they say after comparing themselves with everyone else around them…and feeling they come up short.
I want to cry.
I want to hug my daughter – to hold her – but she pulls away.
No matter what I say.
No matter what I tell her.
She doesn’t believe me. I’m completely and utterly wrong because I’m not there and I don’t see the other kids.
Meanwhile, I know she’s being too hard on herself.
You know this about your child too. And yet, how do we build our kids’ self-esteem so little setbacks like this don’t derail them?
It’s a process. Let me take you through it.
#1 Breaking Down and Failing is Necessary
Self-esteem can’t be built on positive affirmations alone. Yes, they have their place. But ultimately, an improvement in self-esteem comes from one thing.
The breakdown and tears are part of the process.
I’ve failed many times in my life. But honestly, I never pushed myself as a kid. I steered away and protected myself from situations where I could be completely embarrassed by failing miserably.
It didn’t help me grow.
After college, I started working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. I got a job in the mailroom of one of the big talent agencies. My goal from there was to get a job at a desk – working directly for an agent.
The problem was that I was mailroom. All the Ivy League grads and those with connections – i.e. parents/ friends in the industry already- were in the mailroom too. But they were designated as “floaters.”
Floaters subbed for agent’s assistants whenever they were out sick. They went to a desk, took calls, scheduled meetings. They were the ones interviewed when new assistant positions opened.
Not mailroom employees. Mailroom employees stayed in the mailroom.
For me, mailroom was my only way in. I had no industry connections. I worked hard but once people got to know me, I begged for my chance as a floater.
One day, a desk opened and there wasn’t a floater to cover, I was up.
IT. WAS. BAD.
I dropped all of this agent’s calls, had no idea what I was doing. The agent even called HR and asked to have me removed.
When I was told all of this, I cried. I cried for two days straight. My mailroom boss sent me out on constant errands I think just to avoid seeing the tears.
But then, I picked myself up. What choice did I have?
I got another chance. A desk came up in alternative television (aka reality TV) that none of the current floaters wanted.
HR stuck me on it. And man, I went for it. All grit and determination, I didn’t let anyone boss me.
I got it and I excelled at that desk. So much so, that one of my boss’s clients hired me for my next job.
But, I would have never had that determination if I hadn’t failed and felt like I needed to prove to myself that I could do it.
Kids must fail to discover they can rise again.
READ: How To Teach Kids Grit
#2 Self Talk Yo’self
Kids don’t know what we say to ourselves in our own minds. All they see is the outside.
They might watch us do everything flawlessly… but they don’t see the mistakes we make leading up to now,
They watch us as we leave the room for some alone time. But they don’t know we’re crying as we scroll through Facebook in the bathroom.
They can’t watch as we pull ourselves back together.
They don’t know any of this because they don’t see it.
We need to make the inside visible. That can be done through self talk.
Me? I tend to lose it in the evening, right around 5 o’clock. My son vacillates between tantrums and hugs. It’s “I love you mommy” one moment to “I CAN’T DO IT! I’M TOO TIRED” the next.
It’s emotionally exhausting.
I used to cry and sink to a heap in a corner.
Now, I take a deep breath and I talk myself through it out loud. It sounds like this.
“I am so frustrated right now. The loud yelling makes me want to yell too. But it’s OK. I’m brave. I’m strong. I can handle this. I’m brave. I’m strong. I can handle this.”
That’s been my mantra lately, feel free to steal it.
The entire kitchen becomes quiet. My kids stare at me. It works to keep me in a check AND provides a model of what they can do when they’re emotions become overwhelming.
I made a video just for your kids on self-talk. Watch it together and let me know what you think.
#3 Get up and try again
FYI: This post contains affiliate links to products I love and recommend. It costs you nothing extra if you purchase through my link, but I may get a small commission
This past summer, it seemed like my whole house exploded.
The air conditioners failed during 120-degree heat. The water heater short-circuited the electrical panel. If we weren’t home, we would have had a fire.
We spent 4 nights in and out of hotels – wondering when the problem would finally be fixed and we could go home again.
All while juggling back to school, my first book launch and work. It was a stressful August, to say the least.
Every day I woke up with a knot in my stomach – unsure what the day would bring and what I would need to do to deal with it.
I was under a ton of stress – AND I didn’t sugar coat it.
I didn’t pretend everything was fine in front of my kids. It wasn’t. But I also told them, “I have no idea what to do or when we’ll be back home, but I’ll figure it out.”
That’s what we want our kids to feel. That they don’t need to know the answers to everything that happens. They can’t control everything that happens.
But, they always have the capacity to figure it out.
As Marie Forleo says, “Everything is Figureout-able.” She also wrote a book on that I recommend.
The best way to build self-esteem in kids
It’s a simple formula, but its far from easy. Kids need to fail. They need to see you fail and then they need to watch as you pick yourself up and try again.
Be real. Be transparent. There are no cheat sheets or special things you need to say.
Let them see how you think through the problems and model that positive self-talk when you feel like giving up.
You’ll make mistakes – I do all the time. You’ll call yourself “stupid,” or “clumsy” or “dumb.” Simply acknowledge your mistake and move forward.
I’m here with you.