Andy Hooper has served on the board of Family Leadership Center since its founding in 2016. He and his wife, Susanna have two college-age children and, therefore, many honest, funny, and wisdom-filled stories to share on raising kids and living life to the fullest in the process.
My wife and I instinctively knew early on we wanted to help our two kids become “capable”, even before we learned about the 4Cs*.
Capable is one of the most fascinating of the 4Cs because it shows up like a mindset.
When a kid experiences being capable and satisfies Adler’s core need to improve1, it’s because they’ve decided “I can do it”.
By developing that mindset further, they can learn, experience, make mistakes, play, get help, go it alone if they want, iterate, innovate, persevere – or any combo of those – and consistently emerge in a better place.
Download Family Leadership Center’s reference guide to The 4 Crucial Cs2 here.
Why Focus on Capable?
Feeling capable creates a robust foundation for working things through and figuring things out.
And it turns out it underlies critical skills for everyone’s future. A Fortune Magazine article published in May 2023 lists the 10 top skills employers are looking for in the next 5 years.
The list includes “curiosity and lifelong learning”, “creative thinking” and “resilience, flexibility, and agility”.
Sounds a lot like the good side-effects that come from feeling capable!
At its core, capable is teaching a kid to fish rather than giving them fish.
And that experience goes a long way when it comes to building positive power, having a voice, and navigating life at any age.
Building Capable in Our Kids
Both our daughter (aka “the girl”) and son (aka “the boy”) are in college now, and during a few empty-nest moments we’ve been able to look at some of the things they’re doing today and trace them back to some now-I’m-feeling-more-capable experiences they had growing up.
We are far from being perfect parents (what even is that?), and my main hope is that these examples might spark something that could apply to your parenting world.
- When the boy was six years old and would get frustrated and shriek at the Wii Lego games, we’d encourage him to keep at it to figure it out [by the way, I’m a huge fan of the problem-solving contribution of these games]. Often he didn’t like our suggestion to keep going when he felt like he was failing, and wanted us to just do it for him. But he learned to persist and experiment with multiple pathways. Ultimately, he learned he could figure it out. He’s studying to be a Mechanical Engineer now, and has an abundance of mental capacity to tinker and experiment and learn.
- When the girl wanted to organize her fourth-grade class to raise money for an animal shelter by setting up a fundraiser table outside the town co-op grocery store, we had her speak directly to the store manager. The idea was initially a little scary for her, but we rehearsed what she decided she wanted to say, and how she might respond to different scenarios with the manager. She learned from that early capability-builder that she could navigate conversations with “people in authority.” This has served her in many ways since, including how she has interviewed for and landed interesting internship and job opportunities.
- When the boy was looking at colleges where he could be recruited to play soccer, he built the capability of talking to coaches, advocating for himself, writing messages, bouncing back from getting rejected, and ultimately figuring out what best suited his needs. He ended up attending a school where he doesn’t play soccer, but the “I can do this” mindset taught him how to navigate people dynamics in a way we could never have predicted. He has proactively figured out how to get two great college jobs and become a key leader as an underclassman for the largest sports club budget at the school.
- When the girl struggled with unsuccessfully auditioning for plays and singing groups early on, she had to build resilience in herself to work through the critique and potential (or actual) rejection. There were many ups and downs, but she kept at it, especially at the end of her sophomore year of high school and into her junior year. She ultimately earned a spot in the elite audition singing group, got the lead in the musical her senior year, and was elected Student Council President. Building on that, she has come to feel capable in a very competitive college environment that can easily sway a young person to plenty of self-doubt. Now she organizes huge social events on campus, serves as a Resident Advisor and sings in an a cappella group.
From our perspective as parents, it was important to develop that can-do mindset as a pathway to confidently navigating the uncertainties of life.
We wanted to give them both a sense that they could problem-solve, make good decisions and keep moving forward.
But let’s be very clear, by no means has everything worked out.
We’ve had misses, setbacks, frustrations, arguments, struggles, and a few regrets.
And we learned it can be incredibly challenging to appreciate that it’s all going somewhere useful when you’re right in the middle of it.
The Path to Capable
We had to keep nourishing and watering and trusting our own can-do process.
The quest to nurture an “I can do it” mindset may play out successfully in ways that are unexpected or not initially obvious.
In some cases, even though they didn’t achieve exactly what they set out to do, both of our kids learned something about who they are and what they can accomplish that later served them elsewhere in big ways.
Let’s also mention there were times as a parent where I would have rather just solved the Wii Lego game issue, or made a quick call to the store manager, or skipped talking through edits on texts to coaches, or lightened up the audition schedule.
But that’s part of what we’ve learned taking this path as parents, that we have the ability to delay the short-term or quick result in order to serve the long-term value of being capable.
The great part of studying and applying the 4Cs is that it’s not about prescribing what’s right for parents or kids.
I would probably rebel against being told the right way to raise kids (ok, full confession, I have).
But I’ve gravitated towards the 4Cs as foundational elements for designing a satisfying life, filled with expression and growth.
Ultimately Capable and the other Cs are about nourishing the key ingredients and building blocks of a healthy relationship with oneself that can be applied to any commitment or style of life.
Enjoy the ride.
We’ve loved it.
And we’re still on it!
*A Reference Note on The 4 Crucial Cs
1Alfred Adler identified the four core needs: belong, improve, significance, encouragement. Ansbacher, H. L., & Ansbacher, R. R. 1956. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, Basic Books. New York.
Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew translated Adler’s core needs into the Crucial Cs: Connect, Capable, Count, Courage. Bettner, B.L. & Lew, A. 1989. Raising Kids Who Can. Connexions Press. MA.