How to Turn “I Can’t!” into “I Can!”

One of the quickest ways I’ve found to FAIL is tell myself “I CAN’T.” And, if someone sympathizes with me that the task is too tough or the journey is too long, chances are I’ll quit before even trying. Far better is the friend who can help me see what I CAN do and encourages me to build on that instead. Like when I first considered running a half marathon…

Big disclaimer: I’m a runner, but not a die-hard runner.  (I much prefer to bike or swim than pound the pavement on foot). But my sister challenged me to join her in a 13.1 mile race, and I couldn’t resist. Shortly thereafter, reality struck, reminding me I’d never run more than 6 miles before, and those 6 felt like 600. Seriously, WHAT was I thinking? “I CAN’T RUN 13.1 miles!”

When I mentioned this half marathon goal to my current training buddies, they were quick to build me up. They pointed out my strengths and reminded me of all the 5K’s, sprint triathlons and walk relays I’d already accomplished. They even helped me find a realistic training plan and agreed to hold me accountable to it. Convinced, my “can’t” quickly transformed into “Let’s do this!”

Translated to Parenting

Kids who think they can’t face the same challenges and need the same help that I did. Often, though, parents are quick to jump in and either rescue the child or add to the frustration by insisting the child can. But there are steps that parents can take to help kids believe that they really can. Here’s an example:

Four year old Jacob flops down on the floor, tossing his shoes and complaining, “I CAN’T tie these!”

Mom sits down next to him and shows she wants to team up to solve the problem. (The trick is to help him calm down so he is receptive to hearing and trying).

She says,”It looks like your having trouble. Tying laces is hard work. I know you can learn to do this. Let me see what you can do, and I’ll help with the rest.”

“But I CAAAN’T.”

Mom, staying positive, says, “Let’s start with what you can do. What do we need to do first?” (Mom encourages Jacob to take the first step of putting his shoes on his own feet).

Shoes are on. Mom says, “Great that’s the first step. Shoes are on. Now what?” (Then she encourages him to take the laces in both hands and (if needed) gently guides his hands to hold them properly).

Once in hand, Mom asks, “Now can you show me how to make the first crossover tie?”

Each step continues like this, with Mom allowing Jacob to do as much as he can without her direct help. When Mom does take over the more complicated steps, she can encourage him to either guide her through the rest of the steps or verbally repeat and copy what she says and does. When the shoes are tied, Mom gives a big hug or high-five and points out how much closer Jacob is to tying his shoes all by himself. “Ta-da!”

Breaking a task into bite-sized, attainable pieces makes it seem less overwhelming. And confidence grows with each small success. So, it pays to have patience, be consistent, and stay positive.

P.S. After (mostly) sticking to my training plan and seeking encouragement from my close friends, I ran my first Half Marathon with my sister. We walked about a mile of it, but we did it! And we were so pumped afterward, that we signed up for another. And now it’s become a semi-annual tradition.

Question: What task easily frustrates your child ? What can you do to break it down into baby steps? What can you say and do to empower him or her to do as much as possible on his or her own? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Here’s a popular resource for help tying shoes.

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