3 ways to respond when kids say “I can’t do it”

Wouldn’t it be great if your child was good at everything? As grown-ups, we know that this expectation is not realistic, but some children hold very high standards for themselves and get frustrated when a task gets tricky.

Here are some responses to try when you hear your child say, “That’s too hard” or “I can’t do it!”

How to respond when your child says' I can't do it'

1. You can’t do it YET

The power of a three-letter word is profound when you are encouraging your child to see things more positively. The word “yet” is all about possibilities and allows you to talk with your child about what can happen when they try.

The strategy gives you a way to introduce the concept of a growth mindset, which is the belief that difficulties can be overcome and abilities can improve over time.

The word “yet” is also a great way to communicate that you have confidence in your child.

Ideas for parents when your child gives up easily

2. “I know this is hard for you.”

It can be tempting to tell your child that their worry is unfounded, or that they are simply wrong, but this would be a lost opportunity to have a deeper conversation with your son or daughter.

When you respond with “That’s not true” or “Don’t say things like that”, you run the risk of shutting them down just as they are opening up to you.

“I know this is hard for you” is a great way to show empathy.

At Kids First, we always say that behaviour is communication, and this simple phrase shows your child that you’re listening, understand their struggles, and are ready to help.

esponses that build resilience in kids

3. “Have I ever told you about …”

Storytelling is a good-natured way to help kids understand that they are not alone in their struggles.

Maybe the whole family knows that you often leave your phone behind when you go out, but you’ve never talked about how your forgetfulness sometimes affects your ability to remember daily routines.

Or perhaps Grandad’s socks never match, but there’s an ‘invisible’ reason for this. He is colour-blind, and just like your child, he has a secret challenge that not many people know about.

Adding context through a story is a good way to start conversations about why people find some things hard to do. It’s a great way to normalise your child’s challenges.

Children who talk negatively about themselves

When to be concerned about your child’s negative self-talk

In isolation, the occasional instance of negative self-talk is natural, however, it is important to take your child’s negative self-talk seriously, especially if it starts to occur frequently. Seek professional advice if:

  • Your child’s negative self-talk is persistent and pervasive
  • Your child’s negative self-concept is not based on reality ( For example, your daughter is often invited to parties and playdates, but still says that no one likes her, or your son usually does well in Maths tests but is anxious that he will fail or not come first in the class)
  • Your child’s perfectionism or negative self-talk is impacting their relationships or schoolwork
  • Your child’s eating or sleeping habits have changed
  • Your child frequently, somewhat vaguely, and in the absence of physical symptoms, complains that they are not feeling well
  • Your child’s negative self-talk is linked to troubling shifts in their mood and behaviour

Help for kids and teens

Your child’s teachers, family doctor, or paediatrician are excellent places to start if you are concerned about your child’s emotional and social well-being. Should you feel that your child’s negative self-concept is impacting their social participation, learning, or personal relationships, a psychologist may also be able to assist.

Kids First Children’s Services is located on Sydney’ northern beaches. Our multi-disciplinary allied health team includes psychologists, counselors, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and specialist early intervention teachers. Please feel welcome to contact us on (02) 9938 5419

Psychology and Counselling for families and children at Kids First Brookvale

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