Author: Bridget Kessler
Published in: Home Educator Quarterly
Published on: Mar. 23, 2018
Updated on: Oct. 15, 2020
No matter what abilities our children do or don’t possess, parents stubbornly believe that their children are full of potential. It is that belief, not a degree or particular skill, that makes a great educator. With firm guidance and a “can do” attitude, students thrive. What students need most is someone to believe in their potential so strongly that they begin to believe it themselves.
I found this to be true of our youngest son, whom we adopted when he was twenty-one months old. During his first year with us, we realized he had some developmental delays. He rarely put more than two words together, and his favorite phrase was “I can’t.” As I observed him at therapy, I noticed an unsettling trend. Therapists who did not give in to his protests saw some progress. Those that always gave in … saw none.
Observing these professionals, I eventually learned the art of knowing when I should accommodate and when I should push a little harder. Some things for my son were genuinely difficult due to his small size and delays, but often, the problem was his unwillingness to try or to believe he could accomplish a task.
With the underlying assumption that thoughts determine our emotions and emotions drive our actions, we decided to ban the phrase, “I can’t,” permanently. It became a curse word in our home. In its place, we offered more optimistic phrases like “I need help” or “I need practice.” The change seemed small; however, something clicked. Although it didn’t erase challenges, it made a crucial change in the way our son responded to them. Eventually, he was making progress by leaps and bounds.
But, the changes didn’t occur in him alone. If I didn’t want him to say, “I can’t,” I had to stop saying it, too. I found myself asking, “Why not give it a shot?” Over the years, that paid off. My fourteen-year-old began racking up college credits. My eleven-year-old’s creativity with Legos led to opportunities for him to study web design and robotics. When we learned a disability was to blame for another son’s disdain of reading, I began a dogged pursuit of the one book that might ignite a passion for reading. I secretly cried the first time that son begged to stay up late to finish “just one more chapter.” It was a joy to see the conversion in my family.
Recently, someone said of my youngest son, “He’s the most confident kid. You’ve done well.” I assured her it was he who had learned to be an overcomer, and in the process, he may have taught us all.
When we strike “can’t” from our vocabulary, we achieve success. That is true of students and of parents, who are charged with the monumental task of giving our kids the best education possible. We may need practice. We may need help. But we can! We absolutely can.
This article is reprinted with permission of Texas Home School Coalition and the author. It originally appeared in HEQ. Visit THSC.org.