“I can’t do it!”

"I can't do it!" ... and even when your child finally does do it, you will still hear the declaration "that doesn't mean I really can do it." It doesn’t seem to help to tell them they can do it - and in fact it seems to make it worse, as they argue why they can’t do it. The person is stuck, often very emotional, and using up huge amounts of energy to stay stuck – and all the praise and support in the world can’t shift it.

Notice how strong their body language is – they physically recoil from the problem. Asking them why they feel like that is no help, and again seems to make it worse, as they don't really know themselves.

How do these negative beliefs happen?

From the moment we are born, we are responding to our experiences in the world so that we can function and remain safe. These beliefs are unconscious and help us run our lives on automatic. It's only when our beliefs block us, and make us feel bad that we become aware of them.

A belief like "I can't" may have come from one very upsetting event, or from a series of experiences that have caused distress, and so the person wants to avoid a repeat of the stress and upset.

These negative beliefs can arise from seemingly simple experiences to highly traumatic events, and it depends on the individual child’s reaction. As a parent, you have probably often observed how differently your children respond to situations.

How do I know if I should get help for my child?

These 5 indicators that your child may need outside help is if you notice:

  1. A change in your child’s demeanour –perhaps a once confident child has become anxious or withdrawn
  2. Your child is struggling to socialise with peers, becoming isolated from friends, or is simply unhappy
  3. A recent, or a past event, such as being bullied, that has had a negative impact, and your child seems 'stuck' and unable to move on
  4. Your child is under-achieving and is struggling in areas that are below their potential
  5. Constant homework battles, especially if your child needs your assistance

Unlocking the belief

Often the belief that is upsetting your child is actually a false perception – and "I can't" is an excellent example of this. Their thoughts and emotions become all tied up into a physical big brick wall that causes distress when you try to help.

Today, we know that even very young children are able to gain from the many therapies that are now on offer – therapies such as NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), Body Talk, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Kinesiology, Colour Psychology and other Energy Psychology modalities. The purpose is to help the child unravel the issue on all levels – physical, emotional as well as mental. Once the cycle has been interrupted, then new thoughts and feelings can come in, and they can see the situation from a new perspective.

When the child is relaxed emotionally, quicker and more effective long term results are possible than through simple behaviour modification techniques.

How can you help at home?

Interrupt the cycle – say something different. You already know that trying to persuade them seems to make it worse. Observe their body language to give you clues on what to say. "This is really making you upset, nervous, worried, frightened, angry, panicky etc". By simply stating how they are feeling, it is the first step in them feeling that you understand their problem. (Even though their 'problem' may only be to write one sentence!)

Get them to unravel the problem – without them realising it. Say something like, "Tell me the hardest part and perhaps I can do that bit for you." If they say, 'all of it', just keep saying you will just do the hardest part. By identifying the hardest part, they have actually begun to break the problem into chunks. By offering to do it, you are taking the burden away. Don't worry that they should be doing it by themselves –that will come later. (And in reality they aren't doing it anyway!) This also creates the opportunity to set up agreements about what you will and won't do. Setting time frames and breaking the task into chunks, are indirect ways of talking about the task itself before you actually attempt it.

'Wondering' as conversation opener

As you are working alongside them, at the right moment, you may be able to wonder aloud with comments like 'I wonder if that day the other kids laughed when you lost made you scared to go to swimming?', or 'I wonder if you started to hate reading because Mrs X had a shouty voice.' Again you are just gently looking at a component of the problem, and inviting the children to think about it. If the child denies what you know was a problem, then they would benefit from outside help.

When the task is completed, do NOT say. "See, you can do it!" No-one likes to be patronised or tricked into doing something. Stay in role of companion and say, 'I enjoyed that.' 'That was fun.' 'This worked well.'

Find a way to remind them (and yourself!) that you are on their side, not working against them. Homework is a good example of this where it becomes a nightly battleground. You are trying to help them, but they resist your help, and everyone feels wrung out at the end.

Take it seriously

Regardless of how trivial the problem seems to you, if you are seeing lots of physical and emotional distress in your child, don't minimise it. Their body language is giving you a clue on how high their stress is.

As adults, we know ourselves that small things can upset us way beyond what they truly merit, and even when we know we are over-reacting, the last thing that is helpful is someone telling us to calm down. It makes us want to say "But you don't know how I feel."

That is the core of why negative beliefs cause so many problems –it's the strong emotions associated with it. When you release the underlying feelings and emotional energy, then the mental belief seems to change itself. With help, they are able to free themselves of what's limiting them, and once free, you can see the change in their posture, their confidence and their general well being.

By Mary Ashby-Green
Education Specialist
BA (English & Educational Psychology), Dip Tchg, NLP Master Practitioner