Tell me what you CAN do!
Written by Teresa MI Schaefer, PhD
One of my favorite picture books from childhood is The Little Engine That Could. I loved it as a child, loved it as a parent, and, love it as a therapist. It is about CAN. Not just “I think I can.” But I CAN. When I talk to the parents and children I work with, even the adults working with me without children, it is not uncommon for me to refer to this book.
In the field of mental health, just as in the field of medicine, we apply diagnoses to conditions, not only to define the condition we are treating, but also to inform the treatment approach. These diagnoses have utility. Unfortunately, these diagnoses are the proverbial double edge sword.
They tell us what we can’t do – not what we can do. If we assume the identity of disabled, disordered, deficient, or ill, it is likely that we (and others) will pay attention to our disabilities and not our strengths. Let’s think about this using the analogy of the glass.
Describe the glass as ½ full and it is lacking. Describe the kid (or ourselves) as disabled, disturbed, disordered, deficient and ill and he/she is lacking. Glass ½ full, glass ½ empty – it is the same glass. Can do kid, Can’t do kid – it is the same kid.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Focus on the weaknesses and we feel weak. Focus on the strengths and we feel strong. The glass half full has potential. It meets some of our needs and has the potential to meet all our needs. Identify our strengths and those strengths may assist us in moderating or managing our weaknesses.
Individuals who identify with their strengths believe in themselves, believe they can and consequently try. Identifying with a deficit or disorder leaves us with limited potential; we simply can’t because we are deficient.
In our COVID climate, there is a great deal that we can’t do. No school, no church, no eating out, no play groups, no hanging out in all the ways we are normally accustom too. Our daily routines are foiled, usual programs have been cancelled, we are wearing more hats than usual. We likely feel more harried, stressed, anxious or depressed than is our own normal. We don’t have to be clinically diagnosed to feel these ways.
These issues are challenges, if not outright problems. Problems, I would add, that require attention, remediation, accommodation – solutions. This is not always easy but is certainly more complicated if we stop at CAN’T.
So, in raising a CAN-do kid, in being a CAN-do parent, we need to understand and know the challenges of our children, as well as our own. We need to know, not only their and our challenges, but also recognize the limitations of their/our capacity. But, perhaps even more importantly, we need to know their strengths and our own.
· are potential assets in managing the challenges.
· will provide opportunities for self-fulfillment and positive attention.
· will fortify the ego and sense of self.
· will allow our children and ourselves to realize what is possible, what we CAN do.
What are your child’s strengths? What are your own? How can you shine the spotlight on these abilities? How can you let these strengths guide you through these trying times?
Now, let’s all shine!