a case of the “can’t”s

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me –
Anything can happen child,
ANYTHING can be.
~ Shel Silverstein ~ Where the Sidewalk Ends

One of my major pet peeves when it comes to my children is the phrase “I can’t”. I’ve been trying to teach my boys that they can do ANYTHING. Why is this so difficult for some children to grasp?

My stepson, Speedy, believes that anything his father and I can do, he can do – and improve upon. This is especially true for sports of any kind.

Peanut and Monster? Not so much.  If something is tried and failed the first time, as is usually the case, it’s not tried again for some time. Much to my dismay.

Take for example – learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  Knowing the ‘give up’ nature he seemed to have adopted, I made a big deal out of it by taking Peanut to buy the bike with me. He got to pick it out himself, with the understanding that he would have to hand his “little boy” bike down to his brother and that the “big boy” bikes don’t come with training wheels.

Yes I know they do, but that was part of the fabrication that needed to be in place to build up his confidence.

So – new bike bought. New helmet picked out.  Excitement level 10. I even let him buy elbow and knee pads so he could be “safe”. We went to a nice, level lot where I let him pedal away, while I held onto the back.  I let go for 1 second, the bike fell over and even though he caught himself (and I congratulated him for being so quick to get his feet down), his confidence was shaken.  He looked up at me with his big doe eyes filling with tears and, hanging his head,  said “I can’t do it Mom.”

I was heartbroken.

I told him he was doing a GREAT job! That he was awesome for catching himself so quickly, because that’s the hardest thing to do. I assured him that everyone falls the first few times they try a big boy bike. Heck, even Mommy falls sometimes and she’s been riding for a LONG time.  After which ensued the conversation about how yes, Mommy had a bike when she was little too. It was pink and had a basket and little plastic ribbons that flowed from the ends of the handlebars.  Until I realized that my son hadn’t asked me if I had a bike when I was a child, he asked me if there were bikes when I was a child.  To which I replied that yes, Mommy, unlike some people, was born AFTER the invention of the wheel.

But I digress.

Despite my best efforts, I could NOT get Peanut back on that bike. He loved it, he was terribly proud of it, but when anyone would ask him if he enjoyed riding it, he would say “I can’t” and that was all.  To which I would reply “But you haven’t even really tried“. I spent the whole summer trying to convince him that he could ride it, but he insisted that he could not, and that we should have Grampa make some training wheels for it. I finally gave up.

Peanut did eventually learn to ride a 2 wheeler, and he surprised me by just asking to do it. When he decided that he could do it, it took him no time at all.

The point is, I’ve had this fight – not really a fight but you know what I mean – with them over almost everything… skating, swimming, bikes (now it has started with Monster), and seems to be seeping into schoolwork too. “This book is too long, Mom. I can’t read the whole thing.” They eventually realize it can be done, but not until much encouragement on my part – and Hubby too.

I think I’m going to have this painted on a wall somewhere in the new house…


There are people in their lives that let them quit.

When they say “I can’t”, instead of encouraging them, they say “OK” and let them quit.

This is not an attitude that I want to foster in my children.  I want them to try and try again.  I want them to have the fighting instinct that I have… that little voice that takes the “you can’t” and turns it into “watch me”.

How do I do this without pushing them?

12 thoughts on “a case of the “can’t”s

  1. I feel the same as you. E just learned this phrase, “I can’t” and it really bothers me. I try to encourage him to ask for help if he needs it and most of the time it’s a little lift so he can reach something or it’s just a little encouragment from me and he is fine. I see where you are coming from – you don’t want to pressure them into it or then they will be totally turned off. Perhaps reminding them of all the things they CAN do will help thmy realize that these little things that come up can’t be that hard after all!

  2. When you figure this out, let me know. My son purposely avoids activities that he knows he won’t be able to do as well as he likes. My fear is that I have somehow caused this! It’s a fine line, because no one wants their kids to fail, but how you ever learn or grow without failing a few times? Good luck to you!

  3. We deal with a very similar thing over here too. I’m still figuring it out. Sometimes I push, sometimes I let him stop. It’s very tricky. I take it on a case by case basis.

  4. I so wish that I had a parent like you who would have pushed me and encouraged me to “can” instead of shrugging their shoulders and siding with me. You’re doing a fantastic job. It’s hard to instill a positive outlook when it is so easy to just give up. You’re doing a great job.

  5. I always suspected you came after the wheel! I think I was between fire and the wheel myself! Too funny!

    I am afraid I am too much like Peanut and Monster to give any real advice on this one. I was cautious. My kids were cautious. Plus there is something about being a bit of a perfectionist at work here too I think. I think you are doing all you can do. Everybody in his or her own time….no matter how much we as parents get the urge to speed them through some stages (says the woman with the hormonal teen boy!).

  6. My mom used to argue that “can’t” should be removed from the dictionary. . People place way to many limits on themselves because of the fear to try.

  7. Pingback: Some blogging resolutions for 2012 | {You Are Here}

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