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June 17, 2019

The Best Way to Handle Your Kid’s “I Can’t”

One of the greatest challenges I face as a parent is to stop saving my kids from discomfort and letting them sort it out on their own.


During those times when they cry out,” I CAN’T!”. But you are confident that they have the skills to conquer the task of talking to a teacher about an assignment or apologizing to a friend’s parent for bad behavior or doing math homework or calling work to tell their boss know they are sick.


I want them to feel cared for but I want them to learn to care for themselves. I want them to build self-esteem, not lay the foundation for a lifelong limiting belief. How do you find the balance?


I say, “You can handle this.”


“You can handle this” shows that you are on their team and here to support them but that you don’t have to do it for them. It shows them you think they are capable. That they have the ability to ask for what they want and express what they need. It helps them learn that they can deal with discomfort.


And if they refuse? I let them experience the consequences. I don’t weigh out a punishment and I don’t save them. If they don’t talk to the teacher about an assignment then their grade will be what it is. If they don’t apologize to a friend’s parent then they will doubtfully be allowed to spend time with their friend anymore. If they don’t call work when they can’t come in then they will be fired.


Do I love these consequences? No. But they are learning to handle it. So I have to let them learn what happens if they don’t. And it is not the arbitrary punishment of not having a phone for three days. It pains me to let them live with the consequences but it is in their best interest.


Oh, and if they try to handle it and they really can’t, I apologize. (But that rarely happens because I knew they could handle it. That’s why I told them they could!)


Recently my daughter was told she needed to re-take a photo at dance since the first one came out blurry. She needed to wear all black. She picked out her shirt and left it on the front door so she would remember to take it. Thinking it was just left there accidentally, I put it on the stairs. Oops. And we left home without it. When we got to dance and she realized she didn’t have it, she melted down, totally afraid to tell the teacher. “I CAN’T”.


But I knew she could.


The teacher is the nicest woman on the planet. My daughter has been dancing at the studio since she was four. There were no other students there at the time. There was no urgent need to have the picture done that day. I knew that the teacher would tell her to schedule a new time and to please remember her shirt. End of story. No yelling or shaming would happen, as my daughter feared.


So I said, “You can handle this.”


“I CAN’T”.


So I said, “You can handle this. Let me know if you want to talk it through.”


I remained calm and patient and eventually she got out of the car. And slammed the door. And went into the studio.


And when she returned later that night, she was fine. And I bet a little more confident. She had handled it. On her own.


As I knew she could.


And your kids can to.


You can handle this!


Note: There are in fact some things they are not ready to do. And it is our job as a parent to have a gauge of what skills our kids have built, what skills they are practicing, and what skills they are not ready to try out without our help. They may be perfectly able to call and order a pizza but are not ready to talk to the principle alone about an accusation. As adults there are situations where we still need assistance because we have not built the skills so we do need to acknowledge and honor this fact in our kids as well!


Looking for more advice on how to help your teen manage life? Download my free eBook, “How to Be Victorious Over the Toxic Teen Years”.

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Elyse Hudacsko  |  Contribution: 2,010