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What To Do When Your Child Says, “I Can’t Do It”?

I often have parents writing to me, my 4 year old refuses to do anything, or my 3 year old refuses to do activities or my toddler doesn’t want to try new things. What do we do when our child says, “I can’t do it”?

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Guess what,

we’ve all heard this statement at some point in our parenting lives. It can be hard to hear as a parent. We believe in our child and his capabilities. Many of us end up reacting to the statement from a place of nervousness for our child.

You don’t have to worry. Every child goes through moments when they feel they cannot do something. It is a normal part of the growing up process. It doesn’t mean that your child gives up easily or has developed low-self-esteem. 

Maybe your child is telling you the truth and you are afraid to hear it. Maybe it is genuinely not possible for the child in that moment.

what to say when my child says I can't

Here are some phrases you can use depending on the situation.


Some ways to approach a situation when the child is feeling defeated is by saying,

1. Take a break, try again later. 

Sometimes it’s not possible for the child to do something because they are tired, sleepy, or hungry. 

At other times the sheer task of learning a new skill can be mentally exhausting. It’s hard to persevere when you feel overwhelmed. 

Taking a break allows the child space to recharge and come back stronger. In this case I can’t simply means not right now.

2. I know this is hard for you.

Acknowledge that learning new things can be hard for the child. Sometimes all the child needs is to feel validated for their feelings. Next you can sit together and figure out a way to help the child overcome any mental roadblocks.

Read this post to understand how to emotionally coach children through challenging situations.

3. I too had a hard time—

If you have a similar story from your childhood where you overcame challenges go ahead share it. It helps the child relate.

4. You are learning a new skill, it takes some time.

Then at other times all the child needs is a reminder that they can’t do it just yet, doesn’t mean they can’t do it ever again.

At home focus on the learning process and effort taken rather than final outcomes.

When the child does complete their tasks or learn that new skill make sure to praise their efforts and persistence. Be specific in your praise to boost confidence in kids.

These are some of the simple ways we can motivate our children to keep trying instead of labeling, comparing or pressurizing.

Internally motivated children come from backgrounds where their mistakes are considered as part of process, creative expression is encouraged and where developmentally appropriate support is provided.

Hope you found this post useful. 

For more gentle parenting posts check older blogs here.

How do you motivate your child when they say, “I can’t do it”? 

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