Can’t Do

Can't-Do Crabbie, crabby, scared, frightened"Anything New Is Not For You!"

Can’t-Do is amazingly easy to recognize. When you ask your child to do something, he or she will simply say, “I can’t do it.” This is often spoken in a fearful, hesitatant, or whiny tone."

There are variations on this theme such as, “No,” or “I don’t want to,” or “It’s too hard.” Children will also say things like, “This is dumb,” or, “This is boring.”

In addition, there are the nonverbal signs: the blank stare, the head shaking back and forth, the downcast eyes, the shrugged shoulders, etc.

The good news is that Can’t-Do is a very rewarding Crabbie to beat in terms of creating self-confidence, building mastery, and developing positive attitudes that lead to later-in-life abilities to overcome challenges.



The first thing we recommend for beating the Can’t-Do Crabbie is reading The Little Engine That Could. From then on it’s very easy and fun for your child to say: “I think I can. I think I can!” Then, when you hear them say, “It’s too hard!” or, “I can’t do this!” or, “I don’t know what to do!” remind them about The Little Engine That Could and how she kept saying, “I think I can. I think I can!” …all the way until she did it!!! 

Before you know it, you will hear them saying “I think I can. I think I can!” to themselves while they’re working on something like putting on their shoes or printing their name! This will melt your heart and chase any Can’t-Do Crabbies away. You can contribute to this positive attitude by providing encouragement and showing them that you have confidence in them. This gets kids and parents out of the trap of getting discouraged and arguing with each other.

There are 3 main scenarios when the Can’t-Do Crabbies disrupt children:

When they really can’t do what is being asked.

Sometimes your child may state, “I can’t” because they legitimately do not know how to do what is being asked of them. In these cases, it is important to teach them and help them. This often requires breaking things down step-by-step or helping them master an easier task first. Another good strategy is to offer to do things together, with them taking on more responsibility than before at the same time that you help do things that are beyond their current ability level.

When they can do what is asked, but they are lacking enough confidence to give it a try.

If your child says they can’t do something, but you believe they can, sometimes it is effective to simply tell them that you think they can and that you want them to give it a try. If this works, great! There will be times, however, where your child will persist in saying, “I can’t do it.” Resist the temptation to argue with them! This is an opportunity to pause and use a different approach. What we do is ask them to try and tell them that we’re going to give them some time to see if they can do it. We tell them that we are going to go work on something else for a few minutes and that we’ll come back and check on them. Frequently, when we come back into the room, they have done it! Then, we act very excited and say, “Wow! Can you believe you did it?! That’s great!!” If they haven't been able to do it, this is okay too! Learning to do new things and building confidence is a process that happens over time.

When they know how, but they refuse to do it. (In this scenario, one of the primary Crabbies, such as Too-Tired or Achy, is likely to be involved.)

If your child can do something, but refuses to do so, it may be related to another one of The Crabbies. If this is the case, it is wise to talk with your child about this so that you can work together to beat that Crabbie in the future. However, this does not eliminate the need to deal with the current Can’t-Do Crabbies. You may need to use some of the strategies listed above to try to encourage them to do the task.

Another way to beat the Can't-Do Crabbie is to explain to your child that it is their responsibility to follow through on doing certain things even if they don’t want to. Also explain that there are consequences for them refusing do what is being asked. A common circumstance where this applies is when a child is supposed to get ready to go somewhere and they refuse to do things that they are very capable of doing independently (e.g., they need to get their clothes on and get ready to go). If the activity that they are supposed to get ready for is optional and something they want to do (e.g., going to the park, going to a friend’s house) you can tell them that they won’t be able to do that activity if they do not get ready by themselves. Then, you must follow through and not allow them to go unless they do what is required.

Sometimes, the activity will be something that is necessary (e.g., going to preschool while you go to work), or something they do not want to do (e.g., going to the doctor). In these cases, if they do not follow through on their part, they must still do the activity (in other words, refusing to get ready does NOT allow them to get out of the activity). Then, you help them get ready and you carry on with the day as planned. You can explain to them that they need to be more cooperative in order to beat the Can’t-Do Crabbies. Then, you can make use of future situations to motivate them to practice the refused task in circumstances where they are inclined to want to get their way. For example, if they refused to put their shoes on because they did not want to go to school, you put their shoes on for them, you bring them to school, and you insist that next time they must put their shoes on before they can go to the park. Basically, take advantage of future situations where you can remove the desired activity unless they become more cooperative to build the behavior.

Note: If you and your child are in a pattern of arguing together or having difficulty getting along when he or she is having trouble doing tasks, we suggest you learn together about the Get-Along Crabbie. The more you conquer the Get-Along Crabbie, the less this type of scenario will become an issue. If your child is not cooperating, you can point out that the Get-Along Crabbie is on the scene along with Can’t-Do

As your child experiences successes in trying new things and in becoming more independent, they will want to try more difficult tasks. As they increase in confidence, the Can’t-Do Crabbies won’t show up as often.

The goal is to keep things as positive as possible and to minimize power-struggles. Set them up for success by choosing tasks that are slightly more difficult than what they have already mastered, but not so difficult that frustration arises. Then, when they succeed, spend time letting them feel proud of what they have done. Verbal praise can go a long way. Kids also really like being able to tell others about what they did (e.g., tell family members, bring something to show and tell, have a ribbon hanging on the refrigerator). We have a few tools for celebrating accomplishments and will add more over time. See the For Kids section for printable “I Think I Can” ribbons to give out when you notice them overcoming Can’t-Do. If it is a noteworthy accomplishment, write on the back how the ribbon was earned.

There are lots of opportunities we use to give out “I Think I Can” ribbons, including: 

  • Dressing on their own

  • Putting on or tying shoes

  • Zipping jackets

  • Helping oneself in the bathroom

  • Sing the ABC song

  • Letter, number or shape recognition

  • Counting

  • Cutting

  • Printing

  • Letter sounds

  • and many more…

Have fun watching the growth in confidence that builds with the accumulation of ribbons. Beating Can’t-Do is a great feeling for those that beat him AND for those who help move the process along. Kids and parents both LOVE beating this Crabbie.