“I cah-h-h-n’t!”

“I cahn’t! I-I-I cah-h-hn’t!” The lament of my three-year-old grandson as he fit together jigsaw puzzle pieces. Within two minutes the puzzle was complete and he was on to another puzzle. But the chant continued. “I cahn’t!” Cute.

Doubting one’s adequacy may be cute at three. It loses charm by grade school. So how do we best love our kids when they insist, “I can’t,” but we parents know they can? I have five guidelines as a conversation starter.

Show grace

Lead with love, not law.  Let your self-skeptical kids know they are loved.  Loved by you.  Even better, loved without measure by our God.  Try, “I’m sorry you don’t think you can do this.  I want you to know I love you more than anything else.  And Jesus loves you much more than that.”

Don’t only begin with an emphasis on God’s grace. Throughout your conversation circle back to your love.  A love that won’t diminish because of your child’s failures. A love that is driven by God’s love for you.   Make God’s grace tangible with your actions: a hug, a smile, a back rub.

Yes, laying down the law has a place. Refuse to start there.

Seek to understand

Ask, “Why do you think you can’t do this?” Your child is believing a lie. Expose the falsehood to the warmth of truth and the problem evaporates.

There are many reasons we might doubt our abilities. For example,

  • Others’ negative opinions.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Prior failures.
  • Peer pressure.

Share your positive evaluation

Gently offer your own view of the gifts and abilities God has given your child. Suggest evidence for your view. “I know you can do this. Remember how you swam across the pool and surprised us all?”

Talk about grace and giftedness

Go beyond offering your evaluation. Talk about grace’s evaluation. Grace insists your child is unimaginably precious to God. The Son of God coming to be our Savior proves that. But in addition, God’s grace means your child is spectacularly gifted as the exact person God wants on this planet today. Consider Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Offer appropriate assistance 

Consider providing appropriate help. You might say, “What if you and I do this together?” “I’ll show you; then you can do the rest.” “I’d be willing to get you started on this project.”

Different kids in different situations at different times in their lives need to be approached differently, of course. What advice would you add?