Encouraging Kids to Feel Capable

Capable is one of the 4 Crucial C’s children and really everyone needs to thrive. The other 3 being connect, count, and courage.

Children need to feel that they are competent and capable of caring for themselves. Those who do feel capable, have a sense of competence, self-control, and self-discipline.  They are self-reliant and assume responsibility for themselves and for their behavior. They believe they can do whatever they set their minds to doing.  

Children who do not feel capable, frequently feel inadequate and frequently try to control others or let others know that they cannot be controlled. They frequently become dependent on others or seek to overpower others.

There are 4 areas where you can help your child feel capable:

  1. Make each mistake a learning experience.
  2. Build confidence in your child.  
  3. Believe in your child.
  4. Make sure your child has some successes.  

Children who do not feel capable frequently feel inadequate and try to get others to do things for them. Quite often, they put themselves down and focus on what they can’t do. 

They often avoid doing their schoolwork and/or their chores.

When pushed to do things that are difficult for them, they may tantrum or get into power struggles.

As they begin to feel more capable, these children become more self-confident and self-reliant. They start to take more responsibility for themselves and are more willing to try difficult tasks.

They now believe they can do whatever they set their minds to do.

Start this process by focusing on what your children do well without conditions or reservations.  If your child is successful at math and begins to struggle with fractions, avoid saying things like, “Except fractions, you are good at math.”

Avoid using the word “but” when you talk to your children.  For instance, instead of saying, “Good job on your test.  A 95% is great, but why didn’t you get those other 5 points?” say, “Wow. You really worked hard, and you had success.”

Convey belief in your children by showing up for their activities, saying things like, “You can do it.” “I have confidence in you.” “I believe in you.”

Avoid doing things for your children that they can do for themselves. If they are struggling, problem solve solutions together or work as a team to accomplish the task.

Make sure your children have some successes by finding activities or experiences in which they feel confident and competent.

Encourage your children to do things in which they will have a positive experience. If they like art, make sure they get opportunities to do art; if they like dancing, encourage them to dance.

Show your kids you believe you are capable even when you make mistakes. For example, if you make dinner and it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, laugh, say, “Oops, messed that up. Tomorrow’s dinner will be better.” Order pizza and move on.

Help your children find areas of talent, interest, or skills by trying different activities with them at home or in the community.

Encourage your children to try things that are hard for them in order to build their willingness to try difficult things.

Have age-appropriate expectations for behaviors, chores, and life skills. (See below for resources)

Allow your children to have their feelings. This will teach them they are capable of dealing with them.

Activities you can do with your child to help build capability:

  • Play balloon games like pitch and catch, keeping the balloon in the air, holding the balloon between your bodies.
  • Cut out shapes, paper dolls, etc. 
  • Put positive notes in their lunch or under their pillow at night.
  • Do a gratitude journal with your children before they go to bed.
  • Have your children do kind or helpful things for someone in the family or the neighborhood.
  • Make a jar filled with positive statements about your children and have them draw one out when they are feeling sad or discouraged. 
  • Cook together. 

Books That Help Children Feel Capable

Read these to kids to start a conversation about the strengths they have and ways they are capable of more than they thought.

Sky Color by Peter Reynolds

Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen

There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer

I Want Your Moo by Marcella Bakur Weiner

Cosmo Zooms by Arthur Howard

The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper

Mister D: A Children’s Picture Book about Overcoming Doubts and Fears by Elizabeth Stevins

Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Incredible You! By Wayne Dyer

If I Could Keep You Little by Marianne Richmond

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

Resources on Child Development:


Developmental Milestones of Young Children (Petty, 2009)

Ages and Stages: A Parent’s Guide to Normal Childhood Development 

(Schaefer & DiGeronimo, 2000)

Ages and Stages: Developmental Descriptions and Activities, Birth Through Eight Years (Miller, 2001)

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