How to Respond to “I Can’t Do This, Mama!”

How to Respond to, "I CAN'T DO THIS, MAMA!" // jessconnell.com

Every kids gets to this place. Or at least every kid in our home has reached it. I remember reaching it in school… heck, I’m feeling it right now (as I write this) in regard to camping. I feel like I can’t. I know, in my head, that other people do it. But it feels impossible for me… like it goes against my nature and is just the very very hardest thing I could ever think of doing.

It feels that way because… (well, my flesh wants to say, “BECAUSE IT IS HARD!” — which it is)… but it feels that way because this is the next lesson God has ahead of me on this road of lifelong learning.

So I get what it is to feel like something is monumentally difficult, or even feels impossible.

Well, our kids feel that way sometimes, too.

This will be my tenth year homeschooling, and this is by far the mini-lecture I have given the most. This is the pep talk I give in response to a broken-hearted, “I CAN’T DO THIS!”, or even, “I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO THIS!!!” It’s the corrective talk I give in response to ugly attitudes like rage or fury over a new concept they’ve hit, or project they’ve been assigned.

I’ve spoken it countless times to my older children… and I’m still using it with my younger ones. It comes out every time we hit capital letters, reading, multiplication… anything new, overwhelming, and daunting. I’ll probably pull it out this year for debate league with my 13 year old, for long division with my 4th grader, for letter sounds with my 5 year old, and all sorts of things in between as well.

You ready for it?

Here it is, MY MOST OFT-SPOKEN HOMESCHOOL LECTURE:

This is how you get better. I know it’s hard right now, and you feel frustrated. But do you remember how hard it used to seem to write your name with a capital letter at the front, and have all the other letters be lowercase? Or how hard it seemed to read those little 8-page readers that ___(the child in our home that is learning to read…which changes by the year)____ is reading now? But now doing all of that is easy-peasy to you. It wouldn’t even take any effort at all if I asked you to do that.

Just like that, this (whether I’m talking about reading harder books or multiplication tables or writing an essay or whatever) will one day seem super-easy to you too.

Now, look at me in my eyes. (I wait for them to look) You can DO this. You can. God has made your mind curious and intelligent. Mama knows you and watches you and thinks carefully about what you can and can’t do. When Mama says you can do this, you really CAN. This is how your brain is going to grow and become more capable. I am always watching to see what you are capable of, and I believe if you stretch your brain just a little bit, and work hard on this over the next few minutes (and hours/days/weeks, if applicable) you can stretch and reach this and do it well. Now, let’s get to it.”

Sometimes I follow this up with “now go wash off your face and come out ready to work hard at this”… if they’ve been crying. Sometimes it’s given with a hug and snuggles, if I see that they are genuinely (not just manipulatively, or whiney, but GENUINELY) feeling as if they really *can’t* do this. Sometimes it’s a little more stern, and sometimes it’s a little more soft.

But this same, basic lecture has become oft-visited and oft-spoken. I’ve heard my older children giving part of this pep-talk to younger siblings when they get frustrated or overwhelmed.

TEACH YOUR CHILD TO TRUST YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THEIR ABILITY (more than their feelings)

Teaching our children to trust in us… to look at what they’ve accomplished and realize that just like we said they could do THAT back *then*, and they did (whether it was wiping up a mess or tying a shoe or reading a sentence or changing their attitude or whatever), that they can trust us in THIS NOW… is so important.

By the way, mama, this is the same basic function of the mind that God will use to teach them, Lord willing, to trust HIS Word over their feelings. 

Over time, the process of doing this in our homeschooling builds confidence for both us as moms & teachers, and for them as kids & as students.

It teaches us as moms to

  • not exasperate our children,
  • really watch for readiness, and
  • make sure that what we are asking of them is reasonable and within their grasp.

It builds relationship as they learn to

  • listen to us,
  • trust our judgment,
  • recognize the truth that we can see farther than they can, and
  • trust that we have their long-term GOOD in mind.

And it builds trust in God for all of us as we see, day-in & day-out, that God really did give them minds that are capable. Capable to do certain tasks adequately, and capable to do some things extraordinarily well. God has built our children’s minds well, according to His purposes, and it is such a privilege to be a part of shaping and molding those minds.

I hope this encourages you & gives insight into how I’ve come to deal with that “barrier” of “I CAN’T DO THIS!!!” in our homeschool setting.

Every child hits those barriers, but they don’t have to sit there or stay discouraged.  When you help them overcome the “I can’t”s by trusting your word over their feelings, you are doing them a world of good.

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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5 Responses

  1. Jessica says:

    I appreciate this SO much. I am in my first few years of homeschooling and have a daughter who gets overwhelmed easily. I need to pray over this and ask God to help me help her in this area.

  2. shannon bradbury says:

    I’m in my 8th year of homeschooling and I needed to hear your words of grace”pep talk” . I sincerely love your tips on this blog.

  3. Julie says:

    I learn so much from your experience/wisdom, Jess! Thank you for discipling me for so many years now…tucking these ideas away for when we have children, God willing!

  4. Ben says:

    Great lesson. I love the idea of referring back to history. We have also found it helpful to refer back to our OWN history telling the child of a time when we as parents believed WE couldn’t do something. We’ve found that kids love hearing stories of our own fears from childhood and even as adults and it seems to lower some sort of barrier that makes them more willing to listen. Great post. – Ben

    • Jess Connell says:

      Good addition. This (sharing my story as an example) isn’t a natural go-to for me. I think I’m more of a “just the facts” gal- so this is a good reminder for me.

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