What to do when your child says “I can’t!”
All people come with a unique set of skills and abilities – it’s what makes our human race so wonderfully diverse. For children, it can be difficult to accept that some things come more naturally than others and difficult to face challenges that are hard. When a child often says things like ‘I can’t do it’, what they are often meaning is ‘I’m scared to fail’. A fear of failure can cause much anxiety for children, teens and even adults – so how should you respond when your child is showing signs of failure anxiety?
"As a parent, I know it can be so tempting to want to jump in and rescue your child when they are struggling."
Experts say that parents and teachers shouldn’t avoid tasks or situations that cause anxiety for a child. As a parent, I know it can be so tempting to want to jump in and rescue your child when they are struggling. This is even more true for parents who have experienced anxiety themselves and they really don’t want their children to feel the difficult feelings that come with stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, when we intervene and help our child avoid a challenge, we are unintentionally confirming that’s child’s internal thinking – that they in fact can’t do it.
"Achieving difficult tasks will boost the child’s confidence and self-esteem"
Encouraging anxious kids to face difficult situations head on will empower them to work through the anxiety that they are feeling. Achieving difficult tasks will boost the child’s confidence and self-esteem and show them that they are more capable than they might have previously thought. Of course, it is important to communicate to the child that you understand that the situation might be difficult for them, but then encourage them to at least have a go and hold back from doing the task for them. You might notice that your child will stall, delay or just plain refuse and it is important to remain by their side for emotional support – just don’t take over and resolve the problem yourself.
If we never fail at something, it means that we are not stretching ourselves as learners"
Unfortunately, many kids don’t understand that failure is actually essential for growth. If we never fail at something, it means that we are not stretching ourselves as learners and therefore not reaching our full potential. Helping kids understand that failing is just a part of the learning process will do wonders for developing a growth mindset and overcoming anxiety around facing difficult challenges.
It is also important to mention that whilst failure anxiety is very real, there are some children who might use language like ‘I can’t’ simply to get out of doing something. Children are incredibly smart and for some - acting incompetent might be a practical strategy for avoiding what is expected of them.
Whether your child is experiencing anxiety or acting incompetent as a strategy, it is so important to respond in a way that is supportive and encouraging. Parents are a child’s first teacher and through providing a gentle yet firm response, your child will become more confident to face challenging situations rather than avoid them.