Building Self Esteem in Kids: Part 3 You Can Do Hard Things

You Can Do Hard Things

Children need to learn skill task mastery and task completion.

Parents need to convey the attitude:

I believe in you, you can do hard things by yourself. 

The Definition Of Enabling

Enabling is doing anything for a child that is age appropriate for them to do by themselves. It lowers self-esteem when you do what their friends are managing alone.Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 1.42.29 PM

Remember your two-year old saying, “Me do!” Your child still feels that way, and wants to be capable. Be aware of age appropriateness tasks and allow them to struggle. The teacher doesn’t expect you to do their homework—-really.

Children grow from feeling pain and disappointment. 

We shouldn’t helicopter in and keep them happy.  My mother recalls an incident which occurred over 80 years ago, when she lived on a farm. It was just before the Great Depression and the world was a much different place. But she learned a valuable lesson from her experience. The story is called:

A broken HEAD and a broken HEART

One Christmas, when I was four years old, there was a beautiful doll left underneath the Christmas tree for me. I love
Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 2.29.31 PMd my little doll and called her Dolly. I took her everywhere I went.

One day I dropped Dolly and her head cracked. I thought my poor Dolly was dead. My heart was very sad. Mom helped me find a box for a pretend coffin. I had a funeral and buried her by the side of the house.

The ground was hard because sometimes Dad parked the car there. I dug and dug for a long time, but Dolly’s grave was not very deep. 

 I soon missed Dolly and wanted to play with her again. I went out and dug her up. The box was smashed flat. Dolly’s head was broken in tiny pieces. Dad had run over Dolly not knowing that I had buried her there. My heart felt like it was broken in tiny pieces too.

I had to wait for a long time for a new doll.  Mom and Dad couldn’t afford to buy one for me. I couldn’t have a new doll until Santa brought one for Christmas. That was a long wait. I loved my new doll, but there was always a little sad place in my heart where I missed Dolly. My heart was very sad.

Years later Mom would add, “Sometimes we learn more from the sad times than the glad times. I couldn’t blame anyone but me.  I learned to take responsibility for what I did.

Would you let your child suffer and go without her doll?  Do you believe children grow from disappointment? Would the incident be remembered for 80 years if Dolly had been replaced?

The Marshmallow Test

In a landmark study at Stanford University in the 1960’s, a team of researchers offered a child a marshmallow immediately or if the child would wait alone in the room for several minutes until the researcher returned, they could have two treats.  The longer a child was able to delay gratification and wait the greater executive function they showed.

A child using higher executive functioning will perform better academically, earn more money and be healthier and happier.  They will likely avoid negative outcomes such as jail time, obesity and drug use.  The inability to tolerate frustration is one of the defining characteristic of addiction. 

Self Control Can Be Taught

The good news is the ability to delay gratification can be taught and encouraged in our children.  As Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University who studies willpower said, “Self-control is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets.  Avoiding temptation once will help you develop the ability to resist other temptations in the future.”

How to we help our children develop self-control muscles? 

We need to believe in their ability to do hard things, allowing them to struggle and fail. Quit helping them with tasks they are capable of doing by themselves. Let them experiences the consequences of their actions. Then we have happy kids, happy parents.  (

More in Part 4

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 4: 

What is age appropriate? See my post:

What happens to adult children who feel they are special? See my post:

*You can buy the book with the Dolly story here:


Camille Curtis Foster

Contact Me/ 801.472.7134/

Please “like” my Facebook page:

Illustration is by Kathy Peterson

Johnson, Sue. (2008) . Hold me tight, seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little Brown & Company.





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