Take the T out of can’t in 2008

Can’t isn’t a word I accept at home. I’m sure my kids are sick to death of me telling them they can do anything if only they just try harder or think of a way to make whatever it is they want possible.

That’s why talking with the father-daughter team of Brad Smart and Dr. Kate Smart Mursau, authors of Smart Parenting: How to Raise Happy, Can-Do Kids, intrigued me. Who doesn’t want a happy, can-do kid?

Smart says he believes too many parents these days are giving their kids the wrong kind of Ph.D., as in giving them license to be passive and dependent on anyone but themselves. In his view, we’re not teaching our kids to think on their own because in hectic times between work and running them to all their activities it’s easier for us to tell our kids what to do or even do it for them.

I immediately felt that old mommy guilt rising. From time to time, usually when I’m tired and a bit cranky, I’m guilty of doing just that. Probably most of us have told our kids what to do or have done it for them just to get it done.

Mursau, raised the can-do way, admits sometimes it would have been easier if her parents had just told her what to do, instead of making her figure it out on her own. For example, when keeping up with good grades and many extracurricular activities became overwhelming in high school, her parents urged her to find a solution instead of them telling her what to do. Mursau decided to drop softball, freeing up 10 hours a week but not necessarily the solution her parents would have picked. Still, she says her confidence in making her own decisions grew.

Ultimately, Smart and Mursau say, the idea is to teach kids to set good goals and make good judgments—and to learn that making mistakes is part of learning.

“We do these things so that our kids are happier in the long run, are healthier,” Mursau told me.

As we set about setting our goals for the new year, helping our kids become happy, can-do kids rates right up there with dropping weight or promising to exercise more. Plus, it’s a resolution we can and should keep in 2008.

Two can-do activities to try

Planning a meal

Have your child, ages 11 and older, plan out one entire family meal from store to table. You provide the money to buy the groceries and transportation to the store. After shopping, your child prepares the meal and gets it on the table. You serve only as coach, not boss. Not only will this teach the child to make decisions, it might end battles over food with picky eaters.


Figure out how to get to a destination.

For a 4-year-old, make it a game to let them figure out how to get to McDonald’s from their house. Although their route might not match yours, eventually, you’ll get there.

For a 14-year-old, have them figure out how to take the train from their home to downtown Chicago. They should present you with a detailed plan that includes plans for unexpected problems. This will help them become street saavy.

For more activities and information about Smart Parenting, go online at www.asksmartparenting.com.

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