“Please try not to spill it.” These words have come out of my mouth many times over the years, and I’m going to change that immediately. Here’s why:
- Because confidence.
- Because self-worth.
- Because who has time to care about messes?
I have two impressionable little people under my care, and I think my most important job is to make sure that they believe in themselves. In their self-worth. In their abilities. In their importance.
“Please try not to spill it.”
The last time I said this, my newly three-year-old was carrying her plate from the kitchen counter to the table for lunch. This is a skill she’s just learning- to balance a plate of food while walking. She’s graduating from toddler to kid, and is starting to help out around the house with the little things she’s able to do. Expectations for my kids are age-appropriate, but when she sees her six-year-old brother doing things, she wants to be a big kid too. And I want to foster that.
“Please try not to spill it,” I said, as I passed her the plate. And I saw her hesitate. Just a little stutter-step, just a little pause, just a little self-doubt….. that I’d planted with my comment. My heart broke into a million pieces. I saw it happen: right before my eyes her mind shifted from the confident “I’m-a-big-girl,” while “Mommy-doesn’t-think-I-can-do-this” creeped in.
Now perhaps some of you are thinking that’s ridiculous. We need to parent our children, you say. We need to guide them, you say. We need to teach them, you say. And I believe this to be true. But please tell me why it would be necessary to say “please try not to spill it?” As if, by omitting this phrase, you would be encouraging the child to spill? As if the child would purposefully try to spill and fail? As if the child cannot make a mistake? “Please try not to spill it” does not need to be said because the child will already be trying not to spill it. Done and done.
Am I being too sensitive to this? Too emotional? Too picky? I don’t think so. I’m a sensitive soul and I know my kids. “Please try not to spill it” does not promote the self-confidence that I’m trying to cultivate in them. It does not add to their world and their worth. So it doesn’t make the cut.
Back to my earlier example, my daughter did not in fact spill her lunch, and she was very proud of herself for crossing the kitchen successfully. But if she had spilled, I would hope to use that as an opportunity for both of us to learn and grow. First, she was using a plastic children’t plate (like it would make a difference if the plate was breakable? ‘Wear the Dress Socks,’ remember?). Second, I can control my reaction so that it provides no fear component or worry about my approval. And third, and most notably, spills teach that people make mistakes. We clean up and move on. Life happens. And it’s often messy.
So I’m going to keep trying to set my children up for success, I’m going to keep trying to help them learn from their mistakes, and I’m going to keep trying to figure out this parenting gig.
“Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate. ~Unknown.”