The Danger of Telling Children They Can Do Anything

Making positive comments to children indiscriminately can be very dangerous. Learn why not to tell children that they can do anything.
The Danger of Telling Children They Can Do Anything
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 02 July, 2023

Recognizing children’s strengths is essential to contribute to their self-confidence. Children need their parents to convey security and motivation in the things they do. However, an excessive use of these kinds of phrases can be harmful. Keep reading and learn more about the danger of telling children that they can do anything.

Telling a child “You’ll be able to do anything you set your mind to” sounds very nice and even has a certain coherence. However, excessive use of positive comments can have the opposite effect of what’s expected. It’s true that for a person to achieve a goal, it’s important that they’re convinced that they can do it. But telling a child that everything they want is within their reach can do more harm than good.

Encouraging children and boosting their confidence

Just like adults, children also need external motivation. In this regard, caring and protective figures should provide encouragement through actions and words.

When a child rides a bicycle for the first time without training wheels, they’ll  expect the accompanying adult to convey confidence and exclaim phrases such as “Come on, you can do it! This will give them the courage to try to keep their balance. Likewise, they’ll feel more confident when they hear their mother or father cheering them on from the bleachers while playing a soccer game.

Children face challenges on a daily basis. They’re constantly learning, testing their abilities, and acquiring new ones. They also make mistakes, an inevitable part of growing up. It’s clear that strong self-esteem is shaped, among other things, by positive messages received from the outside.

A mother encouraging her daughter while sitting on a basketball court in a park.
The comments children receive from their parents are more than significant. Moreover, although they’re not determinative, they leave deep symbolic traces.

Abusing positive comments can be dangerous

However, making a child believe that everything’s possible isn’t always a good idea. Making indiscriminate use of positive comments can be really dangerous for their mental health. You may wonder why a seemingly beneficial message could be harmful to your children’s minds.

What happens is that they build inelastic beliefs, which will make them jump to conclusions. For example, if thinking that they can do anything they set their minds to, then the first time they fail to accomplish a goal, they’ll feel that there’s something wrong with them. However, they must accept that failure is part of life. Simply put, they won’t be prepared to tolerate frustration.

Any attempt to escape the negative-avoid it, stifle it, or silence it-fails. Avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. Denial of failure is failure.”

– Mark Manson  –

In turn, making a child believe that they’re capable of doing everything they set out to do hides an encrypted message: If they don’t achieve something, it’s because they haven’t tried hard enough. And the truth is that it’s unfair and unrealistic to consider that 100 percent of the results depend on one’s own sacrifice.

The value of vulnerability

We all have limitations. We all have cognitive, physical, psychological, or contextual aspects that condition or restrict our goals. Therefore, there are things that are out of our hands. Vulnerability is inherent to human beings, and denying it won’t make us stronger, but less real.

On the other hand, if we convey to them that all people have certain limitations, they’ll understand that if something doesn’t work out well, this doesn’t make them less valuable. Also, recognizing oneself as vulnerable is a prerequisite to being able to ask for help. To do this, we must accept that we can’t do everything by ourselves. Therefore, overusing positive comments can be very dangerous, as it undermines the idea that asking for help is okay.

A father teaching his son to ride a bike.
If we use positive comments excessively, we instill in our children the wrong idea that they’re not vulnerable and don’t need help.

How can we prevent positive comments from being dangerous for our children?

Positive messages are a fundamental root for healthy self-esteem. Too much of it, however, can derail it. So, what do we do? Well, the most beneficial alternative is always going to be to strive for balance.

To reach the middle ground, it’s important to use praise and motivational comments cautiously and wisely at appropriate times. In addition, it’s critical to understand not only that our children aren’t capable of doing everything, but that they don’t need to be.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kosma, A. Negar en la era del rendimiento y de la positividad.
  • Roa García, A. (2013). La educación emocional, el autoconcepto, la autoestima y su importancia en la infancia. Edetania, (44), 241-257.
  • Silberstein, D. (2009). Reafirmar la autoestima de nuestros hijos. Ediciones Lea.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.