My two year old is hard on herself

Avery has always been a determined learner. She has a strong inner drive to learn new things and to practice new skills. For example, she has been working on writing letters since she turned two. I’m always amazed by her aptitude and determination and focus. I try not to shower her with “Good job!” or “you’re so smart!” but rather say things like “you’re working so hard on that letter,” or “wow, look at that Q you drew!” That’s how all the parenting books have told me to give praise, so that the praise encourages and acknowledges the process and doesn’t come out sounding empty after the 100th “good job!” (That said, I of course say “good job” and “you’re so smart” some of the time).

But now I’m seeing behaviour that’s worrying me, and it has me questioning how I praise… She’s so hard on herself. She was working on drawing an A along a dotted line stencil (her own idea of fun, not prescribed practice or anything) and every time she went outside the line she put her hands to her face and said “oh no! Not right!” and then she’d hurriedly erase it and try again. She’s not even 2-1/2 yet. She blows my mind with the things she has picked up on and yet, I don’t want to push her. I like the idea of early childhood being about play and freedom from performance pressure… Is her self-criticism due to something I’m doing wrong as a parent? Am I expecting too much of her? Or is being tough on herself just part of who she is? And what can I do to help her balance wanting to master new skills with enjoying the process and taking life a little more lightly?

8 thoughts on “My two year old is hard on herself

  1. That picture is amazing. I love her focus. Try highlighting the mistakes you make and showing her you just try again. We try to praise the process too, and I know I generally OVER praise, but I can’t care too much about it when I start flinging “Great job!” out all willy nilly.

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    • I completely agree with this! I am an education major and one of the things we talk about is mistakes are a part of learning one of my favorite sayings is it’s okay to FAIL because its our First Attempt In Learning… that being said for a 2 year old I would draw/ write with her and purposely make mistakes and say ooops, it’s okay I’ll try again… and then Try again make a couple of mistakes and then say I’ll get it next time lets play with… you’ll start instilling that it’s okay to make mistakes and keep trying and to go back later and try again… you got this you are doing great!

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  2. “You are working hard at learning to write ‘letter’ or whatever. I am proud of how you keep trying. Learning to do new things takes time, people make mistakes when learning new things.” Incorporate acknowledging errors by adults and the key: “When we make mistakes, what do we do? We admit our effort didn’t lead to perfection and we figure out how to fix them.”
    Full truth.

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  3. Probably a little bit of everything. Some kids are natural perfectionists and others don’t really give a sh*t what they’re “supposed” to be doing. And plenty of them fall somewhere in between depending on the task. But you knew that.

    I have two pieces of “advice” if you can even call it that. 1) Also notice how you praise other people, (for example, if your wife prepares a meal for you, “I really appreciate all the time you spent making dinner,” not just “this is delicious.”). 2) Books! I love Beautiful Oops and for older kids, The Most Magnificent Thing is a good one to have at the ready.

    I’ve been on a “nice work!” kick ever since I heard a nature educator use it with her trained rescue creatures at an animal show this summer. Not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing! 😉

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  4. On top of the other great comments above, maybe also take a look at how you and your wife react when you make mistakes on things that you do yourself when she’s around. Kids pick things up from us when we don’t even think they are paying attention so she could have seen one of you react in this way when making something or simply doing a household chore.

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