Get your child’s perspective on why a certain task is so difficult to complete. Is it lack of skill? Lack of motivation? Lack of confidence? Fear of failure? Be sure to ask what thoughts were going on inside your child’s head around the time she decided to tell an adult she needed help or gave up on the task altogether.
Experts refer to these thoughts, which can be conscious or semi-conscious, as “self-talk.” Self-talk can be a powerful motivator. Try to listen in and validate your child’s feelings. Then work together to come up with a plan to overcome the real or perceived obstacles.
What you can say
“Sofia, I know the stuff you’re doing in math is really frustrating for you at the moment. I remember multiplication giving me trouble too when I was in grade school. Let’s see if we can figure out what specifically is tripping you up.”
“I want you to walk me through the first two problems on tonight’s homework. This will help me know how you’ve been taught to approach solving these kinds of equations.”
“Maybe the easiest way for you to do this is to pretend I’m not here. Talk to yourself about what you think you’re supposed to do. Sometimes this really helps and will give you a good idea about how you need to start the problem.”
Why this will help
Everyone has running conversations with themselves as they go about their daily routines. For example, in the morning many parents may find themselves thinking, “I’m tired. Why didn’t I go to bed earlier? I’m going to be late. Why do I always wait so long to start getting ready? There’s no way I’ll be able to get everything done on time.”
Negative self-talk can be a big factor in deciding whether to give up on a task. In much the same way, positive self-talk can be used to combat self-doubt and other demoralizing thoughts. When children learn to recognize such thoughts, they can change their inner dialogue. That, in turn, can change the way they approach new tasks.
You can also help your child by suggesting phrases she can repeat in stressful situations. It’s also a good idea to help her focus on realistic goals and next steps instead of peak performances. The more confident your child feels, the more willing she’ll be to take on new challenges, develop problem-solving skills and express what she needs to complete tasks successfully.