"I can do it!"

28/02/2021 09:57:31

Teaching your toddler self-help skills, because they CAN do it.

It’s Monday morning, you’re running even later than usual. The morning has been a comedy of errors from forgetting about an important meeting, to wearing a bowl of cereal, forcing you to change - again.

You . are . running . low.

And by low, I mean your Mastery Cup is nearing empty. Imagine your need for Mastery is a Cup and when it’s full, you have a strong sense of self-competence. When it’s empty, your self-competence is low.

To make matters worse, your stress response has kicked in, alarming you to the fact that you have an unmet need. As you’re hunting around frantically, trying to find shoes that match today’s third attempt at an outfit, you call out to your 3 year old to put her shoes on. Being as attuned to you as she is, she senses your stress. Then you hear it, a little warning alarm squeak out of her as she becomes frustrated that she can’t get her sandals on. Her Mastery Cup is also running on empty.

She then repeats the same phrase you said this morning when you were just as frustrated when the cereal bowl she was pouring milk into somehow ended up all over you. Just as well you remembered to replace the 'sh' word with shoot! (This time).

As you’re grabbing your bag you hear that little alarm sound start to warm up into a full blown meltdown as she screams “I can’t do it!”. You race to her, take the shoes off her, and put them on for her. Narrowly escaping what could have been another delay to your morning. Well done, you get through it, albeit late, but you eventually get out of the house.

Thankfully, the next morning goes a little better. You’re even on track to leave the house early. Your Mastery Cup is fuller, but your child’s is not. She wanted to get herself a drink, but couldn’t reach the tap, and made a huge mess. She put her head in a sleeve hole and got stuck until you rescued her. And after yesterday’s cereal incident, she wasn’t allowed to pour her own milk. So when you called out to put her shoes on and she failed at the first attempt, she cries out for you to help “I can’t do it!”. And here is where we make an important choice. Do I do this for her today and get out the house quickly? Or do I spend an extra few minutes supporting her to do it herself.  The problem with doing it for her, is she leaves the house with that empty Mastery Cup…. Again.

You see, when she was about 2, your child suddenly realised she has a Mastery Cup. It’s like it just appeared in front of her one day. Oh ! What’s this?! My Mastery Cup?!

What do I put in it?

Can I climb to the top of the pantry? Oh apparently that’s not allowed to go in it.

Can I push this child over that’s smaller than me? No? Umm… what about pull his hair? Still no?

Oh, I am allowed to climb this. Good, that fills my Mastery Cup. And I’m Mastering new words and ideas and learning ways to communicate. I can control what I eat and when I poop… excellent.

All so Mastery Cup filling.

But when we do things for our children that they can do / or learn to do themselves, we rob them of an opportunity to achieve self-competence.

We might not have had the time or capacity ourselves when we were having an awful morning on Monday. But when we can, in moments where it is possible to slow down, it’s invaluable for our children to experience self-competence. They can do this through Mastery Cup filling with achievement, control over their world, success, recognition, and empowerment.

So in this instance, we’re going to sit with her, take a deep breathe, then another one. She’ll notice this and do it with you. Then you’re going to slowly and gently support her to get those shoes on. The beaming smile on her face as she stands up and looks down at her feet after getting those tricky little sandals on for the first time tells you – her Mastery Cup is full.

Your child will give you clues and indicators all day about the things they would like to try themselves. They might point or grab or just do something when they are very young, and when they start using verbal language you know all to well the statement “I do it”. That’s where we start. But it’s the little things every day that are so important for your child to experience, make decisions about, and participate in. Having a full Mastery Cup and the self competence that comes with that is integral to having a good strong sense of self esteem now and in the future.

So next time she says “I do it”, she’s letting you know, she can do it. She’s got this, and so do you! Happy Cup filling. 

By Sandi Phoenix, B Psy Sc 

Founder of The Phoenix Cups® framework

Children's behaviour specialist

The Phoenix Cups ® Framework will help you understand how to meet your most important life needs, and the needs of your children and family, by discovering what cups you need to keep full, and how they influence you and your child's behaviours. 

Take the Phoenix Cups quiz to gain insight into your own unique Cups profile. 

To read more about the Phoenix Cups framework click HERE