How to deal with the "I can't"s - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 10-27-2006, 10:07 AM - Thread Starter
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So, I have your typical three-year-old and all the dilemmas that go along with that. We do fairly well with GD, but he's stumping me on his newest behavior: saying "I can't" to things that he clearly can do. Usually I'm asking him to do something, which he obviously doesn't want to do. If it's not a big deal, I usually just shrug it off, but if I'm not sure what to do when that something actually needs to be done.

Here's a couple of examples:

Me "Time to get dressed, please take your pajamas off"
DS "I can't"
Me "If you can't do it, then I will"

Me "please stop doing X" (driving his cars on the window, throwing blocks, anything I don't want him doing)
DS "I can't"
Me "Alright, then I will do it for you"

It's not so much the "I can't" that's the problem (although it is REALLY annoying) as the fit he then throws when I do it for him.

And yes, I do have a 6 month old and it might be related to her. I'm just looking for some hints as to how to move him past this phase. Thanks!
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#2 of 9 Old 10-27-2006, 06:18 PM
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Hmm... no easy 'fix' I'm afraid.

Here's how those dialogues go at our house (ideally -- some days they don't go AT ALL like this, but I won't air my mistakes here!)

Me "In 2 minutes, it's time to get dressed."
Me "2 minutes are up, time to get dressed. Please take your pajamas off"
DS "I can't"
Me "Well, it's time to get dressed, do you want to take your pajamas off or should I help you?"
DS "I can't"
Me "OK, I'll help your body then."

Me "please stop doing X" "You can drive your cars on the floor/can you throw your blocks into the laundry basket?" (driving his cars on the window, throwing blocks, anything I don't want him doing)
DS "I can't"
Me "I need you to be safe. That might break the windows. If you can't, then I need to help you be safe."

Yes, we still get the meltdowns afterwards, BUT often, the issue goes away BEFORE we get to the "I can't" either because the warning time has given them enough time to transition or because I've given them an acceptable alternative.

But really, although some people here disagree with me, I don't think what you're doing is bad. I try to work on say what they CAN do, rather than "stop", giving lead time, and trying to avoid the "if you don't, then I will.." kind of phrasing because I am trying to avoid threats. But sometimes, I DO end up helping dd (2 1/2), and we DO end up with a tantrum.

I'll be interested to hear other views...

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#3 of 9 Old 10-27-2006, 06:53 PM
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I feel ya! DD is 3yr, and I have tried:
Me: Let's get dressed.
DD: I can't
Me: Would you like me to help?
Me: Would you like to do it all by yourself?
Me: Well, we need to get dressed to go to the store.
DD: I don't want to.
ME: You don't want to get dressed or you don't want to go to the store?
DD: (screaming, hitting, ...) = meltdown

So I have no advice...just looking for some

Heather: wife to Chris ; mama to Sophia (7/03) ; Juliana (8/07):; and Peter (3/12/10)
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#4 of 9 Old 10-27-2006, 07:34 PM
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Simon started saying "It's too hard" awhile ago. I've been telling him that I think he can do it and then I do some scaffolding, i.e., I try to break whatever he's trying to do into little steps and show him how to do it. In the past, I'd just do things for him, expecting he'd just sort out how to put his shoes on and so on by himself. I've come to think that that "approach" teaches lerned helplessness and a sense of incompetence. It's actually fairly complicated to manouevre around one's body and clothes in order to get dressed and so on, so having some information about how this is done is very helpful. I don't force him to try if he doesn't want to. He doesn't mind me helping him, so I'm not sure how I'd cope with that issue, other than just trying to build his sense of mastery and working at increasing the happiness and harmony in the family since doing so helps to minimize conflicts. Simon has responded extremely well to scaffolding and comments like "I think you can do it," "we did it together," "you thought you couldn't do it, but you did it!" and "this is not easy. It takes a lot of practise. You will learn how to do it!" We only started this a couple of weeks ago and he's trying to do so much more and rarely says that something is too hard for him.

I decided to start using scaffolding and to work at helping to build Simon's sense of mastery after reading about a study in which 2 year olds who were left to sort things out on their own refused to even try a challenging task when they were 3, saying such things as "It's too hard for me," whereas those whose parents used scaffolding and encouragement did attempt the difficult task.
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#5 of 9 Old 10-27-2006, 08:16 PM
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oh yeah, everything is no around here too. But for my son (2.5) it's only because he is so busy playing or whatever he is doing that he doesn't want to have to stop. I just bring his clothes, and start peeling the old ones off. I say "alright buddy arms up, way up high!" He cooperates because I give him a little warning, but I don't expect him to stop what he's doing. Sometimes his stuffed monkey gets him dressed, or un-dressed... or some other thing in the house.

I just make EVERYthing fun and games for him. Like outside, obvioulsy if it's 50 degrees and I know it's getting chilly I just run up to him with a vest and say "here bud, arms in, I know it's getting a little cold out here and I didn't watn you to have to stop your busy work out here!"

WIth getting dressed, if I really am still having trouble, I just look at his 5 month old sister and say something like "hey sarah, Joe doesn't want to get dressed, maybe you could teach him how?" Or seomthing dumb that gets him laughing or whatever.

I just don't expect him to WANT to do anything like changing, brushing teeth, etc. I just maek it as fun as possible.

And yes, sometimes I let him keep an 'old' article of clothing. LIke if he needs a sweatshirt/jacket anyways, I'll bargain with him for new pants and keep the jammy shirt on.

I figure the day will come when obviosuly he won't mind getting dressed, and won't think it's fun to go out in his pajamas
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#6 of 9 Old 10-27-2006, 08:57 PM
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If my DS is saying these things I take it as code for, "I can, but right now, at this moment, I would like your help." Maybe he's feeling a little off, or regressing, or just needing to feel like my baby for the moment. He will be 6 in January and this still happens from time to time. Usuallly I don't battle it and just step in and be helpful. Like I would for say, my DH if he couldn't find his watch (for the one millionth time ). Yes, it's *his* responsibilty and he's perfectly capable of looking for it himself, but I step in because he asks me too or sometimes even when he doesn't. KWIM? Usually if I don't make a big deal of behavior like this, it moves on when DS is ready to be doing things for himself again. All too soon, he'll be right back to, "NO! I can do it myself!"

In those moments however when I just need him to do it for himself, (usually it's just a mental leap I can't seem to get over for whatever reason), I use a playful approach (ala, Lawrence Cohen): I grab a couple of his favorite stuffed toys and start a dialog between them:

toy#1: "Ya know, I don't think John knows how to dress himself!"
toy#2: "OH Yeah! I've seen him do it lots of times and he can!"
toy#1 "Ah, I don't believe anything till I see it!"
toy#2 "You are so so wrong about John. He can dress himself!"

*DS starts very sneakily putting on his clothes behind the toys backs*

I just go on and on making the dolls fight (in a very silly way that is) until DS usually jumps in front of them and says, TA DA! This NEVER fails.

So, I help, or I'm playful and help him help himself. In both cases, I stop and focus on him because that is what he needs for whatever reason in that moment. In either case, the underlying need (of attachment) is met.

The best and hang in there!


Em 43 - Wife to hubby Mom to DS born: Jan. '01
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#7 of 9 Old 10-28-2006, 01:38 AM
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We have a case of the 'I cant's' and the 'it's too hards' here too! I try to break it down to smaller steps in some cases, other times I race him to whatever we are doing. Works best for the 'I can't get my pants off (to go potty)'. I tell him that I am going to get to go potty first and he will just have to wait. Then I start to get ready to go potty myself. He always races to get those pants and undies off (the preceding idea was brought to me by *gasp* MIL). When he does do the 'can't' thing we praise that and I say 'see you CAN do it!'

He always is so proud that he did do it after all!

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#8 of 9 Old 10-28-2006, 04:41 PM
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#9 of 9 Old 10-28-2006, 07:03 PM
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I agree with pp. I went through this with my oldest child. The most important thing is to keep the mood light. If you see you child's aggression level rising, you need to counter that with some humor or distraction to avoid a meltdown.

Talking toys or tickling or just plain goofiness works for us! :nana:
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