When ‘I CAN’ becomes ‘I CAN’T’


1. The task might be too difficult

Children reach their developmental stages at different times. Some children are potty trained when they turn two, while some toddlers are not yet ready to be potty trained at that age.
Parents tend to give children tasks to complete according to their chronological age. Sometimes a child is not yet ready to master the task at hand. Some children don’t even know where to start and then they respond with “I can’t do it".

How to help: Give the child the same task, but make it easier. Let him master the easier task before you make it increasingly harder.

2. The child lacks the self-confidence or is afraid to make a mistake
Teach them that everyone makes mistakes (even mom and dad!), and that we learn by making mistakes.
Especially sensitive children feel unsure of how to handle unknown situations. These children would rather avoid the situation than feel out of their comfort zone. When the child is presented with a new challenge, he/she might feel scared, unsure or afraid to make a mistake.
Children compare their work with those of siblings and friends. If a child sees that another child’s work is neater, or that the picture they made is more beautiful, he/she might think his/her work is not good enough and will not try again.

How to help: Start with something the child can do and then try something a little more challenging. If he/she has difficulty completing it, show him/her where to make changes or improvements. Praise the child for his/her efforts. Remember that every child is unique and every child has their own talents.


3. Previous negative experiences

When a child falls off a jungle gym and gets hurt the first time he tries climbing it, he will rather avoid the jungle gym in future. The same thinking applies to other activities as well; when a child experiences disappointments or gets hurt, he/she will not likely try again a second or even a third time.

How to help: Let him/her try the same activity again but under supervision. Be available to help and motivate him. Praise him when he/she has completed the activity.
Should a child refuse halfway into the activity, let him/her stop and try again later. It is important to keep trying and not avoid the activity and develop a fear of it.

4. Feeling discouraged

When children try to complete an activity unsuccessfully a few times, they will feel discouraged. Discouragement can develop into feelings of depression and lead to low self-confidence and low self-esteem.

How to help: Find an activity the child likes and something that he/she is good at to make up for the activity he finds too difficult. Make time for activities he likes to uplift his spirit and boost his self-confidence.

5. Learned helplessness


When everything is done for a child, he/she gets the message that you don’t trust him to do anything. This can lead to learned helplessness.

How to help: Give a child the opportunity to do things himself. Start with easier tasks, when you see that he has mastered it, you can give him something more challenging to do. If he has difficulty completing a task, show him how to do it and help him until he can do it on his own.

6. Changes or trauma


When children go through a difficult time such as the birth of a sibling, moving house or the death of a loved one, they often can’t focus on tasks and activities given to them. They need attention and love more than mastering a new skill.

How to help: Determine what the problem situation might be. Give support, talk about it and give him/her time to adjust to changes and to handle his/her emotions. Should the behaviour persist, seek professional help.

7. He/she might not want to do it
When children don’t want to complete a task or when laziness gets the better of them (and other activities seem more exciting) they will try to avoid the task at hand by saying “I can’t do this'', hoping you would dismiss them from completing the task. Eventually, this becomes an easy escape whenever he/she doesn’t want to do something.

How to help: Explain to the child that he/she first needs to complete the tasks before he can go play.Children need to learn to accept new challenges, to master new skills and correct errors. Children are all different; some needs more attention, patience and help to master their developmental milestones.