5 Words to Change "I Can't" to "I'm Capable"

This article includes a real, unscripted video of myself and 2 year old K.  Watch to see what I said, when I didn't say anything, and how I offered assistance.  

It's the little things we say that make a difference.  

Such a little thing as our response to a child's struggles and accomplishment creates a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.   So how do you shift your child's focus from "I can't" to "I'm capable" plus help her develop persistence and confidence? Two phrases: Try Again and You Did It.   

Let's start with persistence.  How do you encourage a very young child to practice and repeat an action on their own? Two magic words, said with a quiet suggestion.  Try again.

Can't open that box? Try again.

Having trouble pouring your milk? Try again.

Really stuck on what to do next? “Put your hand here and twist. Try again”

Not “I know you can try harder." or "You're not trying. “ Super discouraging, those words.

What do you say when your child finally gets it? It's temping to say “Good Job!”, but that won't build confidence.  Confidence is created by recognizing all the work YOU did to achieve a goal you set for yourself, and feeling successful.  Instead, offer your congratulations, remark on what she accomplished, and say “You did it!” 

Got your pants on each leg? "Look, you did it!"

Balanced all 5 blocks in a stack? "Wow, you did it! That tower is really tall!"

Snapped the lid onto the box? "You closed the box! I can see how proud you are"

Watch how I encouraged K (age 2) to clean up our lemon squeezing activity.  Listen to hear me say "Try again" and a variation of "You did it!" (note: My goal was for him to understand the steps of cleaning up, and practice as many times as he wants to. If he was older, we'd focus on actually finishing the clean-up.)

Do you have other magic phrases for encouraging persistence or confidence?  Share it with us over on our Facebook Page! 


Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. She particularly loves to hear from you!  You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions.