Family, Self

Teach Your Children To Be 'I Can' Kids

Life Coach: Why Parents Should Teach Their Kids To Be Independent

My youngest son (14 years old) plays on a club volleyball team. At his last tournament I couldn't stop watching a boy on the opposing team who had a truly killer spike. Later in the cafeteria, the boy and his mother sat down next to my family, and I noticed that the boy was missing an arm and wore a prosthetic version from the bicep down on his right arm. He was literally a one-armed volleyball player.

My son's team played his again and I watched carefully to see if his teammates, the coach, or his mother made any special arrangements for him. They didn't. He could set, bump, and serve almost better than any kid on the floor. He had an uncanny ability to time the lifting of his prosthetic arm with his other arm for perfect hits. When practicing his serves pre-game, I saw his mother give him honest feedback that wasn't filled with worry or pity. At one point she whipped a water bottle at him and he grabbed it perfectly with his left hand. At the end of the game, when the kids high five each other, he did a slight twist with his body to use his non-prosthetic arm to high five the boys. He also appeared to be one of the most joyful kids on the court with a great attitude and team spirit. 

I couldn't stop thinking about this boy and what must have gone on in his home for him to show up and participate in the way that he did.  Because at some point, this boy had to approach his parents and say, "I'd like to play volleyball." His parents could have easily said, "Sorry son but you can't because you have a prosthetic arm and you need two working arms to play volleyball." Obviously, they didn't and instead must have said something to the effect of, "Sure you can. Let's figure out how." 

And isn't that just the case for all of our children? They all have something that they are struggling with, be it physical or emotional. Maybe they have a chronic illness, a learning disability, insecurities, fears, limited athletic ability, or a mental illness. And isn't it our job to teach them that despite these limitations, they can do most anything that they set their mind to? Are we actually helping our children if we pity or enable them to cling to their struggles as an excuse to not face their fears or succeed at difficult tasks? Is hovering over them and micromanaging their lives really the way to get them to say, "I can" versus "I can't"? 

As adults, most of us have realized that our successes have come from plowing through our own limitations. Yet we seem unwilling to allow our children to do the same. How many of us as adults have realized that we may be weak in an academic skill or a physical task and we've had to learn to compensate for it either through ingenuity or practice? Why wouldn't we allow our children to learn in the same way? Why do we run interference with every teacher and coach when if we sat back and let our children figure it out, we'd actually be teaching them that they can find a way to be successful? 

Our children will leave our nest and watchful eye and when they do we want them to be independent, strong, capable, and believing that they can achieve what they set out to. If you are telling your child that they can't do something due to a perceived limitation, maybe you aren't really helping them at all. Instead, consider saying, "Yes, you can. How can I help?" Allow them to suffer through their struggles and persevere even when it is difficult. When they do finally succeed, their confidence and joy will grow exponentially. A confident child, who knows that he can despite the hardship, is a child who is destined for a life filled with killer spikes and life long success. 

Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist, life coach, and mother of three at You can reach her at

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