Reading "I can't do it"

i cant do it

If your child is struggling with something difficult, negative thoughts and emotions will only make it worse. Here are some ways you can help at home to interrupt the vicious cycle.

“I can’t do it” is a very common phrase amongst some, and often it can be about something they are in fact very good at. But more commonly, it is about something that makes them feel anxious and inadequate.

It doesn’t seem to help to tell your child that they can do it (and in fact it often seems to make it worse, as they then insist why they can’t do it). The child is stuck, often very emotional, and using up huge amounts of energy to stay stuck, and all the praise and support in the world can’t shift it. And even when your child finally does do it, you will still hear the declaration: “That doesn’t mean I really can do it.”

Notice how strong your child’s body language can be, often they physically recoil from the problem. Regardless of how trivial the problem seems to you, if you are seeing lots of physical and emotional distress in your child, don’t minimise it. Their body language is giving you a clue on how high their stress levels are. As adults, we know ourselves that even small things can sometimes upset us and make us react far beyond what the situation truly merits.

At the core of why negative beliefs cause so many problems are the strong emotions associated with the problem. When you release the underlying feelings and emotional energy, then the mental belief seems to change itself. With help, they are able to free themselves of what’s limiting them, and once free, you can notice the change in their posture, their confidence and their general wellbeing.

We run our lives on unconscious beliefs about the world, and these are both positive and negative. A belief like “I can’t” may have come from one very upsetting event, or from a series of experiences of failure, so the child wants to avoid that stress and upset in the future. For instance, if a child struggles at the beginning of learning to read and write, then every new difficulty seems to reinforce their belief that it’s “too hard” and then they squirm, wriggle, cry and get angry whenever you try to help, even though they may now be able to do it. They want to avoid a repeat of the original situation.

Once the cycle has been interrupted though, then new thoughts can come in, and they can see it from a new perspective.

how can you help at home?

1    Interrupt the cycle. Say something different. You already know that trying to tell them they can do it only seems to make it worse. Observe their body language to give you clues on what to say. “This is really making you upset, nervous, worried, frightened, angry, panicky, etc.” Simply stating how they are feeling is the first step in them thinking that you understand their problem.

2    Get them to unravel the problem, without them realising it. Say something like, “Tell me the hardest part and I will do that bit for you.” If they say, “all of it”, just keep repeating that you will only do the hardest part. In fact, by identifying the hardest part, they have actually begun to break the problem into chunks. By offering to do it, you are taking the first hurdle away. Don’t worry that they should be doing it by themselves – that will come later, and they’re not doing it anyway, so you might as well be helping them do some of it. This also creates the opportunity to set up agreements about what you will and won’t do.

3    Break it into chunks.  Ask them how long you should spend on your bit? How long will they spend on their bit? Setting timeframes is an indirect way of talking about the task itself.

4    Ask them how you should do your bit. This puts them in charge. When they have to explain the task, it helps them understand it.

5    Don’t be smug. When the task is completed, resist the temptation to say, “See, you can do it!”. No-one likes to be patronised or conned into doing something. Stay in the role of companion and say, “I enjoyed that,” or “That was fun,” or “This worked well.”

6    Remind them you’re on their side. Find ways to remind them that you are on their side, not working against them.

how do I know if I should get professional help for my child?

Here are 5 indicators to help you decide if some outside help may make things easier for your child.

1    Your child is under-achieving and is struggling in areas that are below their potential.

2    Constant battling with homework, especially if your child needs your assistance.

3    A recent, or a past event, such asbeing bullied, that has had a negative impact, and is now affecting other areas of life. You may have seen a change in their demeanour – perhaps a once confident child has now become anxious and withdrawn.

4    Your child seems ‘stuck’ and unable to move on.

5    Your child is struggling to socialise with peers, becoming isolated from friends, or is simply unhappy.

Mary combines her experience from 30 years of teaching with NLP techniques (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) to clear the blocks, so kids can ‘switch’ themselves back on, and reach their potential.


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