When Children “Can’t Do It,” How to Help

“Don’t be afraid to try” and “Keep trying, don’t give up” are directives we hope our children will internalize. Self-initiative, gumption, resilience, tenacity and perseverance are character traits most of us wish to foster. So it can be disconcerting when our children seem to quit rather than stay on task, or worse, appear to have a defeatist attitude and refuse to even try.

Here are the most common reasons young children say “I can’t do it” and what we can do to help:

1. External pressure

Causes: Our own agendas, misunderstanding our role or our child’s developmental readiness.

Children most commonly adopt an “I can’t” attitude because they have routinely felt pressured to perform beyond their ability and/or counter to their own interests. Since young children are especially sensitive to the underlying messages in our actions, this pressure is often completely unintentional on the part of the parent.

We unwittingly impose pressure when we believe it our role to teach our young children rather than trusting them to be natural, self-directed learners. Then, rather than feeling appreciated for their developmental abilities and play choices, our children receive the message that they are not living up to our expectations. This can happen innocently while parent and child are playing together and usually begins long before the child can verbalize “I can’t.”

It can happen when our baby demonstrates disinterest when we read the story rather than just let her practice turning the pages as she wishes. It happens when our toddler watches us build a block tower instead of doing what he wanted to do: Sort the blocks into colors (himself), line them up, or place them in a bucket one-by-one before dumping them out again.

Engaging in art projects with our children commonly causes pressure, because we can do everything so much “better” than our child. Even by making well-intentioned, unsolicited suggestions, he or she can easily feel intimidated and inadequate.

Constant praise and encouragement usually have the opposite effect of what we intend. There is a fine line between encouragement and pressure for many children. For the rest, there is no line at all. A parent’s enthusiastic cheerleading,” Come on, sweetie, you can do it!” can be intensely pressure inducing. (After all, what if she really can’t do it? Has she failed you?)

Psychologist Carol Dweck’s extensive studies on praise show that comments like “You’re so smart!” can create an “I can’t” attitude. It’s safest to acknowledge: “You are working so hard” or “you did it.”

Remedy: Our child’s “I can’t” is something we must listen to — a red flag indicating that we need to back off, trust, wait and appreciate what our child does rather than wanting more.

Infant specialist Magda Gerber said it best: “Readiness is when they do it.” Let your child be the one to show you what she is studying and learning. Be responsive rather than directive. Don’t even ask, “Why don’t you try?”

Learn to observe play and be mindful about taking over if you do join in. Our children need to be trusted to do things in their time, not ours.

Children are process rather than product oriented, but our focus on results can influence them and create pressure. Instead, give kids the message that they do not need to finish activities like puzzles, etc. Let them do it their way and allow them to stop when they’ve had enough. Stopping and quitting are not the same thing.

If a preschooler says “I can’t” to a teacher about a group activity, accept her response and try offering her another way to participate. The child who “can’t” do the art project might like to be in charge of organizing or distributing the supplies.

2.  Too much help

Cause: Parents over-responding, reacting impulsively, or underestimating child’s abilities.

Children get the message that they “can’t”, when we do for them before giving them the opportunity to do it themselves. This is a tricky one, extremely challenging for parents and caregivers because we naturally want to help.

There was a brilliant example last week after one of my RIE parenting classes. A mum and I were intently discussing something while her 11-month-old son was using the step climber between us. He had found his way down the three steps successfully at least once but was then back up top and decided to reach for his mum instead. Although this mum knew better, she was distracted by our discussion and took him down without a thought.

A minute later I mentioned what had happened, and we had a laugh about our powerful natural impulses to fix things for our kids. Meanwhile, the little guy had climbed to the top again and was now crying out for his mum to take him down as she’d done previously. He no longer believed he could make it down himself.

Remedy: Wait. Then wait some more. See what the child can do independently while assuring him that you’re right there and available. If you are attempting to undo a pattern of helping too much, acknowledge the change: “I was taking you down from these steps, but it is safer if I let you try. I won’t let you fall.” If the child continues to struggle and complain about it, perhaps offer the most minimal assistance (which will probably begin with talking him through the process: “Can you place your foot down one step?”).  Allow accomplishments to belong to children whenever possible.

3.  Negative experiences

Cause: The child has an unpleasant or traumatic experience with a particular activity.

Remedy: Trust and let go as much as possible, especially if the activity is optional. Rather than trying to sell the experience to the child, “Oh, but the warm bath feels so good. Look at all those fun toys,” acknowledge the feelings. “You really don’t want to get in the bath again after slipping under the water. That was so upsetting, I know.”

Find ways for the child to approach the activity autonomously. For example, “Would you like a bath or a sponge bath tonight? Do you want to choose some toys to bring into the bathtub? Please tell me when you are ready to go in the tub. I can lift you in or you can climb in while I keep you safe. Would you like to be the one to turn on and off the water?”

4. Nurturing

Cause: Could be a number of things, but this “I can’t” is usually a request for help during changes and transitions, both external (like moving houses, a new baby or school) and internal (motor skill development, etc.) and other stressors.

“I can’t” can be confusing to parents and caregivers when we know without a doubt that the child can. She can, but she won’t, because she needs to feel more nurtured, cared for, babied. This resistance is usually around “caregiving” and transitional activities like getting dressed, walking (rather than being carried), toilet learning, eating independently rather than being fed, etc.

Remedy: Again, accept and trust rather than questioning or coaxing the child. Offer help. Fulfill these wishes whenever possible without batting an eyelash. If you can’t pick your child up that day for whatever reason, that’s okay, too, but openly acknowledge her desire without the slightest bit of judgment. Then our children can and will do it again with confidence when they are ready.

The key to fostering an “I can” mentality is simple… Accept, appreciate and allow whatever children are able to do in that moment, rather than expecting or encouraging them to do more.

Why is it so difficult to accept the importance of readiness? Normally developing children do what they can do; they do not withhold. Parents who expect their children to perform on a level the child has not yet reached are creating failure and disappointment for both the children and themselves. Don’t people realize how it possibly affects young children when what they can do is not appreciated but what they cannot do is expected?” – Magda Gerber

I share more about trust, readiness and fostering a “can do” attitude in

Elevating Child Care, A Guide to Respectful Parenting 


If you need advice about remedies for specific situations, I’ll do my best in the comments!

(Photo by Niklas Shellerstedt on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Hi Janet,
    Please help! I have 4 wonderful daughters (ages 6 years, 4 years, 2 years and 5 months). My 6 year old is full of confidence, loves to try new things and never gives up on something until she gets it right! My 4 year old on the other hand, is easily frustrated and always says “I can’t do it!” because she isn’t capable of doing things as well as her older sister (ie. Reading, writing, drawing, cart wheels, playing sports, etc). We try so hard to encourage her and not to compare her to her older sister but nothing seems to help. We want her to be proud of herself and her accomplishments. How can we help build her confidence and help her to see how wonderful and bright she is? Thank you do much for any advice!

    1. Have you tried signing her up for an activity older sister doesn’t do? She can then build her confidence in something with no comparisons. If older sister wants to do it too, wait until younger sister’s skills will be hard to catch up to.

  2. My 20 month old will almost always ask for help or say “mommy do it” with a project, even if she has done it herself alone in the past. I often say, “you try it,” or “this is your project,” but after reading this post I am wondering if that is causing her too much pressure? I am not sure what to say to her on these moments.

    1. For me, if I felt like joining in I’d say ‘Okay,’ and go ahead and do it, realising that the ‘mommy do it’ perspective is a phase. If I didn’t feel like joining in I’d say ‘No thanks, I don’t feel like it at the moment.’ And see how that goes! It might mean she drops the project, but that’s okay because she maybe wasn’t in the mood for it?

  3. I signed up my younger daughter to try various activities over the years (from age 3 and she is now 9). Each time she starts out with great gusto (ballet, gymnastics, yoga, clarinet, hip-hop) but after 3-5 sessions, she gets mad and totally ‘quits’. She’ll say ‘You can’t make me do this.’ and she will sit and pout during class. Normally, she learns very easily and I think each time she doesn’t understand something, gets over-the-top frustrated, and gives up instantly. How can I encourage her to keep trying and not get mad at the world. I want her to understand that life has challenges. She’s been asking to go back to gymnastics, after learning quite a bit on the school playground with friends. But I don’t want to pay $ only to have her quit. I might sign her up if I thought she’d stay with it. Thoughts?

    1. Marea Smith says:

      Perhaps showing her by example? My husband takes part in triathlons but we always emphasise that he is only competing against himself, that his goal is to keep getting better, that He needs to practice in order to get better. I play the violin, and we always talk about how mummy has to go to practice, that she has to keep learning, that it has taken many years of practice for me to achieve. Do you have a craft or hobby that you can relate your own learning process to? Can you talk about your work, about how you need to put in some effort for recognition. An committee you are on?

  4. Rebecca Zimmerman says:

    My 6 year old says that he can’t do certain activities at school. He says he can’t draw, that at the other kids draw better than him. At home he has said he can’t write sentences or he can’t do anything. I’ve seen this side of him since he was little–having a certain vision of how things should be and then getting quickly frustrated when he couldn’t create that vision. I shared similar tendencies when I was younger, putting high expectations upon myself and not letting myself ‘mess up’ . Would welcome advice for how to address the issue

    1. Hi Rebecca. Oh my goodness I have the exact same 6 year old. He gets very frustrated and angry and will give up if something isn’t working out as he envisaged or planned. This is in his work/play, and also if our weekend plans divert from what we may have previously suggested – he isn’t good with spontaneity. I myself have a perfectionist streak… so really keen to hear any suggestions too x

    2. In a way, it’s really great that he has a vision and can see how his abilities don’t match his vision. He is noticing the gap in mastery. It’s a normal step in becoming good at something. So my first impression is that his feelings are normal and part of any creative pursuit when one really cares about the art – though they might manifest differently in an adult. Maybe explain that, say that everyone is still learning drawing/writing in his class, and notice how practice is the only way to improve. There will always be people who are better, worse and just different at activities. Especially drawing. So many drawing styles are available! Who’s to say line art is worse than watercolours?

      Does this usually come up with fine motor skills like writing/drawing? And do you also notice he is struggling with the actual activity and not only the emotional side? Maybe the bones and muscles in his hands are still developing and that’s actually physically slowing him down. That would be frustrating! And in that sense, maybe less practice, or a different type of practising is what’s needed! Maybe there are other things he can excel in and get that sense of mastery, or games to improve fine motor skills without the pressure.

  5. Hi,
    My husband and I just received custody of his 7 year old daughter. We knew things weren’t good at home with her mother and that it was going to be a lot of hard work to help his daughter through all her new changes.
    She’s a well behaved and is very bright, but she seems to be lacking confidence. She always has. We try to tell her that she is so smart, funny, kind, and pretty, but she doesn’t believe enough in herself to accomplish a difficult or challenging tasks.
    I don’t know if itvs in her nature, or because how her mother treated her. She has always been like this. From taking away the bottle, or wearing big girl underware, or walking her first steps, she seems to reluctant/more resistant to try anything new or tricky.
    She tells me that she doesn’t like to sweat. We’ve had her in acrobatics class for 2 years: by the end of last year she was able to complete this one move, but now this year she says she can’t do it at all any more. I don’t know why except that she won’t practice at home. When we remind her to she does it with very litle “effort” or complains that she jus cant. It like she won’t use any of her muscles. BUT she still says she wants to stay in the class and enjoys it.
    If she wants extra money to go shopping we have her to do chores. For 30 minutes of yard work she can earn $3. When we’ve done this, we have her pick up sticks. The first time I was shocked of how few she picked up in an half-an-hour, there were less than 20 twigs and sticks. The second time I watched her do it and that’s when I saw her just walking around the yard not doing anything. I don’t know if she was singing to herself or playing a game in her head, so I would remind to stay focus and pick up the sticks. (We live in heavily wooded area, our yard gets full of them-everywhere). She just puts very little effort into her tasks. Even homework.
    I’m okay if she’s not althletic, I never was. But it’s anything from brushing teeth to cleaning your room. We’ve tried timers and she always goes past the time. We’ve let go at her own pace with cleaning her room-the longest it’s taken was 3 hours and her wasnt that messy, brushing her teethat takes 15-20 min. (she wont let me teach her how to floss or use mouth wash, she saus mout tates bad. lol so she is just in brushing her teeth)….
    She just doesn’t get what it means to hurry or challenge oneself. The child has one speed, I’ve never seen her rush.
    I don’t know what to do except be patient. There have been several times we’ve run late because she won’t hurry it up. And I don’t want to dress her for her, or brush her teeth. She’s 7 and can do it. But is just very slow and will NOT pick up the pace at any time.
    Is there any way to explain/teach the importance of challenging oneself and sometimes just moving quickly?
    I think I’ve done well keeping calm and making extra time for her. It’s that fact that she doesn’t have any drive to push herself. I’m afraid that attitude will have negative affects on her life when she gets older. I’m afraid that she’ll just give up with a class that gets difficult or if just anything takes a little more effort than usual.
    Is that important? Am I worrYing too much about this? Is pushing oneself to hurry even related to pushing oneself in other challenages?

    1. I have the SAME problem with my 8 year old and I am also VERY frustrated. It is just easier to do it for her and I know this is not good but we still have to get to work and school on time! Did you get any good advice about handling children like this?

    2. I realise this is old but I thought I would point out two possible things that may be impacting children experiencing this situation. My 2nd oldest is similar to your daughter. We discovered he has sensory processing disorder which can impact things like executive function and hence their attitude and behaviour. I was aware that all of our children have SPD but with more research realised that this can impact children’s attitude and behaviour. I have read Smart but Scattered which may help identify some of the underlining difficulties associated with executive function and strategies on how to help. The sensory issues however are not so easy to remedy and its all the more confusing when the two issues seem to be connected. Either way, I hope the info may help someone.

    3. Just wanted to say that I was this little girl! I struggled a lot with executive function my whole life. All adults around me always complained that I moved too slowly. It would take me hours and hours to do homework. I could never clean my room without help. I was in advanced classes but by the time I was in high school I was so depressed and had no confidence, and was easily frustrated by any slight failure. I dropped out of high school. Well, at 29 years old I finally received a diagnosis of ADHD. Turns out that so many girls are never diagnosed because they display symptoms in such different ways than boys do. I see that someone also mentioned sensory processing disorder, and that’s along the same lines too, there’s a lot of overlap, even with ASD too. If anyone else is dealing with something similar, it may be something to look into talking to a professional about, so that you can learn to better support your child and have more realistic expectations of them. I am still trying to recover from all the self-hate and unrealistic expectations and perfectionism that I developed as coping mechanisms. I really wish I had known I had ADHD and had more support when I was a child, instead of always thinking that all my problems were some kind of personality moral failing.

  6. I’m a nanny for a 3 yr old girl and her 23 month old brother Elliott. Elliott will not use more than about 5 words. He’s at the level of a one year old and I just don’t know how to help him. He understands everything you say and can identify things by pointing and grunting.He’s very smart but just refuses to speak with words. Sister is very verbal and had no problem. The family does a good job at not talking for him so I’m just kind of stuck.any advice? Please email me.

    1. Hi there, i got the same problem with my 2.5 year old. He understands everything. He points at pictures in books and he’s a an overall happy child but unlike his peers who already say things, he says nothing..Any advice? what can i do?

  7. External pressure… yes. I often come across parts of your writing that bring up my own childhood, and I have to stop and process the reaction of “OUCH. Yes, I remember that.” I’m 35 and I still have the “I can’t” response to some people in my family, and still feel that nothing I do is good enough. It is very challenging to finally confront their behavior, because there’s no way I’ll let them treat my son the way they treat me.

  8. Vatti Van Zyl says:

    Hi there,

    We moved recently from one province to another.I have a 7 year old boy. Since he went to GR R he struggled to keep up with the other kids. He get so frustrated and say he cant do it and then he act out in class by disrupting the class. His now in GR 1 and its affecting his grading in the class. How can I help him?

    1. You suggest avoiding phrases such as…why don’t you give it a try?…whilst also encouraging us not to help to much. But if a child doesn’t give it a go because they ‘believe’ they can’t do it, when you know they probably can if they just gave it a go, what would you suggest saying? E.g. tearing open a biscuit wrapper. I know my 3.5yo daughter can open a biscuit wrapper herself. But she’ll tell me she can’t. Encourage her to give it a go and she succeeds. Or train her on how to do it and she succeeds. So, encourage her to try or not?

  9. Anna Schouten says:

    My daughter Juliette has just turned 4. She is on the whole very helpful and caring and generally as independent as you would expect for her age I think. However, some mornings she seems to wake up with a ‘bee in her bonnet’ for lack of a better term. Everything seems to be wrong and too hard.

    This morning for example, she decided she couldn’t dress herself, when I asked her to go to the toilet before we leave the house (it was a morning she goes to preschool) she lies down on the floor and tells me she doesn’t know where the toilet is! If she goes, she has often suddenly forgotten how to sit on the toilet. Her backpack is too heavy, she can’t remember how to sit on a dining chair, she can’t see her lunchbox (right in front of her) to put it in her backpack etc etc! All of the things I ask her are well within her capabilities and simple requests.

    Are you suggesting with this article that I am best to just dress her, put the lunchbox in etc myself??

    I am expecting my 3rd baby in about 8 weeks, and while maybe this behaviour is partly due to starting preschool in the last couple of months and a new baby coming, I can’t help but think I will need her to do these things as I will have a new baby to look after as well!

    I am just lost on the best way to respond both with my actions and what I say to her.

    Any help much appreciated 🙂

    1. I’m going to be recording a podcast in response to your questions, Anna. I’ll link it here when I’ve posted it. Hope it helps!

      1. Anna Schouten says:

        Ohh thank you so much!! I really appreciate your response!

        1. Here’s the podcast, Anna. Please let me know what you think:

  10. Hi Janet,

    My son is almost 4. He’s been in a school-like daycare since he was almost 1 and has now started junior kindergarten (at the same facility). 3 has been tough all around, in developmentally appropriate ways – lots of defiance and emotions to learn about. But over the last few months, probably related to having a new baby sister, starting school, and generally being a bit of a perfectionist, he’s been voicing loads of self doubt – “I can’t” in response to nearly any magnitude of challenge. I suspect he’s most influenced by the “too much help” factor. He and his dad got into the habit of my son asking his dad to build or draw things FOR him, and my husband, for lack time or energy, usually gives in. I’ve discouraged this, but my son is perceptive and persuasive. I find myself at a loss for how to respond when my son WANTS some play goal accomplished without putting any effort into making it happen. A recent example – he’s into Pokemon and wanted a “training gym” for his Pokemon. He asked his dad to build it. Dad was cooking dinner and I was holding his baby sister. My son started up with the “I can’t” and the “I’ve never done it” and I really wasn’t sure how to respond except to encourage him to mess around and try out different Legos and blocks and just have fun with it. He seems to stubbornly bristle at the “just try it” approach. He definitely prefers if someone plays along with him, but ends up sitting at the sidelines while his dad does all the play “work”. How would you approach this?

  11. Hi my 3 year old child says all the time “You need to….” …put my pants on, or you need to help me eat, you need to go downstairs, you need to brush my teeth, you need to dress me, “You need to… !!” Its driving me insane. He fully knows how to and is fully capable of doing all the things really well but is always saying I need to do it! I am on my own with a baby too from early to the evening and I really don’t have time to help him with every single thing! I get so angry so I feel even worse but I just can’t help myself. Our relationship is going downhill fast at the moment. He will insist and insist and repeat himself “You need to…” maybe 20-30 times while balling his eyes out even when I firmly tell him what he needs to do instead. I am at my wits end because I cannot do all things for him when I need to do everything else and have also a hungry baby crying and I know he can perfectly do all those things himself. I am perpetually angry with him. And sad.

  12. Do you have any specific links about toilet training? My son is almost 3.5 years and has had a few successful days of using the toilet. But most days he refuses. So it’s the he can, but he won’t issue. I try as hard as I can to accept what he can do and help when he wants me to and be neutral about it. But it is hard. I feel judged when we are in public and he can’t attend preschool until he’s using the toilet. I feel sad and frustrated for him but not sure if there is anything else I can do but wait?

    1. Jessica Yas Barker says:

      I am very much in this same boat with my three year old son. Toilet learning advice for “older” (relatively) children would be so appreciated. ❤️

    2. krista welch says:

      Same boat here. My daughter had a painful bowel movement after being constipated many months ago, and it has made her fearful ever since. It’s stalled toilet training because, it seems, she doesn’t trust that it won’t hurt (even though we’ve made dietary changes and she’s had mostly smooth sailing—physically, but not emotionally— in that department ever since.) I feel unsure about coaching her (or not) through her anticipatory anxiety. She’s almost 3.5.

      1. Hi Krista — I’m not sure what “coaching” would look like, but what I recommend is allowing, even encouraging her to share her fear. Most of us have the tendency to want to make it better and that can make her anxiousness continue. So I’d suggest really hearing her without any “it’s okay” or “you can do it,” etc. “Ugh, that hurt so much and it makes you frightened of having that feeling again, right?” Letting those feelings be.

  13. Hi Janet, loved reading this – just as applicable to older kids, right? I have a 6 year old, in his 2nd year of school. His thing at the moment is not wanting to continue with or even attempt a task because “I can do that”, “I’ve done that already”, “ I don’t need to try any more”, and even “I don’t care “. As parents we’re trying hard not to fall into the reflex response of “well if not, then x” etc, but struggling for responses that are more understandable, supportive, positive and encouraging, rather than this inbuilt negative response. Any suggestions? xx

  14. Hi Janet, I feel terrible reading this, because my 4 year old (who is still processing the reality of having a 2 year old sibling, I think) often tells me he “can’t” put on his shoes or clothes, when I know he can. In an effort, to show my faith in him and avoid giving him too much help, I usually say “I know you can!” but reading this article, I see that maybe I’ve been denying him the chance to be nurtured that he needs. Often what I end up doing is saying, “Ok, I’ll put on one shoe and you put on the other,” and that seems to work….anyway, I guess my question is how to avoid giving too much help while also doing things for him without batting an eye, as you said above, when he needs nurturing? Sometimes it’s hard for me to makes calls like this in the heat of the moment.

    1. Hi Lauren! Gosh, I don’t think you need to feel terrible. The way you are handling the shoes sounds fine. Mostly, I wrote this so that parents might understand that we don’t harm children’s abilities or self-confidence by doing these kinds of caregiving tasks with them when they need that help. This is quite different than helping put together a puzzle or tower, etc. It’s taking care of our babies. They need that for different reasons at different times. So, no need to overthink this. Be open to a child wanting to button the buttons, etc., but don’t insist on it.

  15. Amy Singleton says:

    Hi Janet,

    Would love some advice if you have time. My husband and I work really hard at respecting and following our daughter’s lead in play (nearly 2). However, my mum (who she adores) and who provides about 1 day/week childcare is a retired schoolteacher and cannot seem to help herself from teaching, almost constantly. Very directive in play, sees the ‘right’ way to do things, uses absolutely oodles of praise. I see my daughter becoming increasingly self conscious and yesterday became upset when a tower fell and said ‘no (can’t) do it’ which is so unlike her. I’ve tried mentioning in conversations about stepping back but my mum easily feels criticised and I don’t think can shift out of her teacher mode. I’m not suggesting my husband and I are perfect either, we talk daily about things we could have done differently, but we read and we’re open to these ideas, which is what I’d love my parents to also do.
    Do you have any suggestions about engaging others in this way of relating to children? It feels such a critical time to be getting it right but these concepts seem really alien to them.
    Huge thanks in advance.

  16. Claire Gerrish says:

    Hi! Thanks for such a great article and all the responses to comments here! I don’t know if anyone asked this already but is there a link to the psychology article about praise listed here? Carol Dwerk I think was the name. The one in the article is broken. Thanks!

  17. Hi Janet,
    Thanks for this article. It really speaks to where we’re at right now! My son will be 2 in December, and for the most part, he plays great independently. However, I do notice that when we try to engage with him or even just observe him in his play, he can get easily frustrated in a way that I just don’t see when he is playing quietly on his own. I love the break that his independent play provides, but sometimes I want to at least observe and be present with him. For instance, this morning I was sitting with him while he was playing with his dollhouse and he was trying to put one of the figures on a tiny chair, got frustrated, and threw the pieces across the room. I NEVER see behavior like this from him when he’s playing on his own. In the moment, I pointed out that he was feeling frustrated, but then didn’t know what to do. Should I have just not done anything? I guess I’m struggling with how to engage/observe while also not making my presence feel difficult for him, where he gets easily frustrated. A similar thing happens around drawing with crayons – he doesn’t want to do it himself, he just wants to tell us what to draw him. I’m not sure how to respond in those instances either. Thanks so much!

  18. Christian says:

    Hi Janet,

    My son started kindergarten having just turned 5 a fews weeks prior to the start of school in the midst of a pandemic. It has been more or less a disaster. He refuses to do most of the work, which we are fine with but his teacher is not okay with him not doing lessons. The number of assignments and lessons and desk time is a whole other issue I don’t agree with but there’s not too much we can do about that. I’m thinking he’s pushing back about doing the work by saying he can’t or it’s too hard because he’s being heavily pressured by us (until a few months ago) and his teacher to get his work done. She tries rewards, consequences, guilt, pressure, etc to get him to cooperate and do the work. I know she’s frustrated and my son is anxious, feeling the pressure and digging his heels in.
    The work might be hard for him though he is bright and has shown he can do the work; he just doesn’t want to or says he can’t. I’ve told his teacher that he will do the work when he’s ready but she can’t allow him to not do anything. She wants us to “make a plan to make him care”. Sigh. We obviously can’t do that and I would love to “drop the rope” and let him try to find the joy in kindergarten but that’s also outside of my control. Any tips on how to get him excited about learning despite the external pressures he’s facing at school?

  19. Lindsay Rumbolt says:

    Hi Janet,

    My 2.5 year old has started to say ‘I can’t do anything’ for example when she tried to ride a scooter this morning. I was very insecure as a child and my self esteem problems carried on until my twenties. My mother expectations of us were very high and still are. I feel like I’m very aware of my own issues as a child and trying to avoid my daughter being like this. Am I over compensating my over praising or is my mother’s way of brining us up the only way I know and am I behaving the same?
    I’m not sure where I am going wrong.

  20. Hi Janet,

    What is the difference/line between too much help and nurturing? I don’t want to offer too much help as my son learns to dress himself but I also want to be nurturing…How would you teach a child to dress/undress themselves when they always say “mommy do it”?

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