"That's NOT what I meant!"


“I AM sorry ... I did not mean (intend) to say that.  What I really meant (intended) was.... .”

Most of our intentions are good. But when these good intentions are not communicated clearly or received properly, we get frustrated.

This is often the case with children, especially those aged from 4 to 7 years. At first children try to say what they mean. They struggle. They get laughed at for saying the “darnedest” things because of their innocence.

As one young child said over the phone to a call which her mother did not want to take, “Oh, my mom says she is not in.”

Expressions of self-determination

Over time, they learn to be embarrassed and then feel ashamed. This is when frustration begins to show. Some children then learn to be silent or quiet and keep to themselves. Some become loud and aggressive.

Communicating our intentions have to be learnt. This is because intentions are actually expressions of self-determination. When children are not able to master this skill, they tend to grow up repressing their self-determination. As a result, they develop a poor self-efficacy.

According to psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is defined as our belief in our ability to succeed in specific situations. If your child has a strong sense of self-efficacy,  he or she is more likely to view difficult tasks as something to be mastered rather than something to be avoided.

Action Pointers

1. Encourage your child to express her desired outcomes freely.

  • Listen without judgement and reflect to her your support wherever appropriate.
  • Affirm the intention behind every action especially for mistakes and shortcomings. This helps your child to learn and recover from disappointments and failures.

2. Bring the family together.

  • Using a piece of mahjong paper, crayons and markers, get everybody to write and draw their desires and goals for the family.
  • Then have a time of sharing, with only questions of clarification allowed from each contributor.
  • After the sharing, work together to come up with a catchphrase and logo that will express everyone’s goals for the family.

It is important to keep the activity fun and light and leave out any judgements on contributions and comments made. The objective is to encourage everyone to express their genuine desires for the family and so to appreciate each other’s intentions.


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Parent-child styles for learning and connecting

Connect using positive presuppositions