A few months ago my oldest daughter, Penny, returned from the park in tears, frustrated at herself for not being able to cross the monkey bars. She had watched another little girl fly across the bars, and became discouraged when she was unable to do the same.
“But the other girl can do it, and she’s only five!” my six-year-old cried.
We talked about different skills and abilities, and I pointed to all of the ways that she is unique and special. I never once told her that if she kept practising that she too could develop the skill that she had seen, instead I told her that I had never mastered the monkey bars myself as a child.
I thought I was encouraging her, but in reality I was telling my child that she could not do something because that is what I believed.
Each day for weeks, Penny would ask to go to the park, and at the park she would stay at the monkey bars, where she would practice, determination written all over her face. I was stunned. I am used to her feisty and fierce attitude, but I had never seen her wielding her strong will and turning it into focused determination.
Daily Penny practised, and slowly she progressed; earning her way, inch by inch, closer to the finish line. She sustained bad falls, and calluses on her hands, but no pain or discomfort would stop her from running back to try again.
After about two months of practising, Penny ran over to me, her face flushed with excitement.
“Mommy, I can do it, come watch me!” She ran back and I followed her, camera in hand.
I was stunned as I watched her. She quickly raced across the monkey bars, as I cheered excitedly. She was speedy and agile, her face determined, her eyes set on her goal.
“I bet you can turn around and go back now!” I said, encouraging her to press on to new goals.
And then she did.
Later that evening, I took some time to think about my own lack of faith and encouragement. I never once told my child that I didn’t think she could get to the other side of the monkey bars, but I implied it when I told her that maybe she didn’t have that skill. Penny proved me wrong. By using her strong will and working hard every single day, she taught us both a lesson in achieving goals, one small, determined step at a time.
Now when we go to the park, she runs to the monkey bars to show her new skill off. She’s also helping other kids who watch her longingly, wishing that they too could race gracefully from one bar to the next.
“You can do it. You just need to practice,” Penny puffs, out of breath, calling to the nervous child watching her.
It won’t be long until she’ll be skipping bars, and expanding her stunts - showing us all that with a little bit of hard work you can accomplish anything.