You Can

The words You can have changed my life in a small way.

For more than three years the saints dressed up like Early Intervention therapists have taught me a profound way to direct my children. Instead of telling them what to do or say, they've modeled adding the preface You can...

Teaching a child who doesn't remember to say hello when a teacher comes in the room. You can say 'hello'!

Redirecting a child who is melting down You can say 'please have banana?'

A child who is stuck in high chair straps and screaming You can say 'help Mama!'

A child who is sneaking into someone's purse You can say 'may I look in your bag?'

A child chucking food across the dining room: You can say 'All done!'

A child who is playing inappropriately. You can turn off the water and choose a toy in here.

A child who is trantruming because he can't have what he wants. You can take a deep breath and talk about what you can have instead.

Kids with special needs, and even neuro typical ones don't know what to say or do much of the time. So they act badly, speak rudely, and panic that they will not be heard or have their needs met. Our team of therapists have consistently, perhaps unknowingly, as a unit, hammered home the concept of telling these clueless tiny people all around me what they can do, since half the time, they literally don't know.

One of my kiddos, new to English, new to family life, new to making decisions and thinking about anything at all, really, does not know what to do a lot of the time. While an excellent follower, if the other children are absent, given the opportunity to make a choice on how to act or what to say, this child flounders, freezes. Looks around at the walls, floor, ceiling, lips pressed, in paralysis, desperate for some clue, some hint about what response may be warranted in this situation, (or may not think any kind of response or action is warranted at all). So I have to get in the trenches. I put on my Speech and Behavioral and Occupational Therapist hat. I pretend this child is like her far younger toddler brothers.

You can say 'thanks for the apple, Mom'

You can take your plate to the sink.

You can read for a few minutes.

You can answer my question after you finish chewing.

You can tell the truth.

You can say sorry.

You can remember to wear your sleep hat.

You can look at my eyes.

You can ask 'can I have a hug?'

You can say 'What time are we going?'

I said it's time to get in the car, so you can drop the puzzle and put on shoes.

You can tell your friend 'Thank you for coming!'

Can you hear the difference between commanding "Say sorry to your brother!" And putting it on the child "You can say sorry."  It is subtle and it makes such a larger impact. All of a sudden the child has options. Can make a good choice. It turns into a potentially empowering interaction and teaching moment instead of dominion and less power for a child who is stuck in a somewhat helpless state.

Of course, the EI angels taught me another trick, to help the little people recognize not only when "they can" but when they do. Today the child in question struggled for a long stint making a good choice. There were tears, but in the end, the child came through and did the right thing. I hinted, like I'd been taught

You can say 'I did it! I am awesome!'

Smiles and wiped snot and hugs. I did it! I'm awesome!

Teaching a big kid who needs the kind of support toddlers need while gaining social and family skills is an  awesomely exhausting parenting strategy. It takes every ounce of strength to remember that this child, though housed in an enormous big kid body, needs what the babies need: a mother who reminds them of  the same stupid things over and over and over and over because two and three-year-olds need repetition. And if a child doesn't get that mind-numbing repetition, that practice in the toddler years, well, then that said child can be going on eight or twenty eight, but he or she will still need someone to dig deep, find courage and say a whole lot of

You can...
to the trees

This is message is brought to you by a mother who has not been using this phrase enough. Bringing it back, starting now.


Vertical Mom said...

Brilliant! I'm using that one. Thanks for sharing.

findingmagnolia said...

Love this - I have been doing this without knowing the value, but definitely not doing it consistently. This morning I tried it intentionally, and WHOA! Miraculous results. I'm going to need to put post-its all over my house to remind myself to use this.

Barb Aloot said...

This is brilliant. Thanks! I needed this badly, urgently.

Casa Bicicleta said...

I have tears in my eyes at the thought of how unbelievably helpful this strategy *will be* to my child now that I know about it. Brilliant. I love this.

So happy to have seen this post.

Courtney said...

i LOVE this. thank you so much for sharing! i'm going to start now. well, maybe tomorrow. i'm so DONE right now...

Sue said...


Deborah West said...

oh how I needed this. about 12 hours ago. everyone is in freak out mode bc dad left on a mission trip this morning. we shall be doing a lot of YOU CANs over the next 12 days! thank you.

Meg said...

I love this!

ChristyCanuck said...

This is brilliant. Thanks for sharing!

Sharla said...

I will be trying this tomorrow. Thank you so much!

Nancy said...

"This is message is brought to you by a mother who has not been using this phrase enough. Bringing it back, starting now."
Ya! Ditto! Back at ya! Amen!
Still teaching this ol' dog new tricks.

sonja said...

I've been using "you can" ever since I read your post, and is it ever fantastic! Not only does it frame things positively for my child, but it makes me feel so much more positive too! Thank you for sharing!!

Shay said...

Thanks so much for this awesome tip! I'm starting first thing tomorrow morning... I CAN!

fruitfulwords said...

Thanks for this helpful post. I just texted my sister (who is 48), "You can do hard things." It was a hard day and she doubted herself.

Useful phrase and truth for any age.

Becca and Kent said...

I have been using "you can" since I read this post a week or so ago and oh my goodness it is changing my life!

I can't tell yet how much it is helping the children, but gosh is it helping me as a mother! Giving me the power to react calmly, feel like I'm in control of myself during their meltdowns, and makes me feel like I have a tool to help them take responsibility and action.

I love this, and I am going to tell all my friends.
Thank you thank you for sharing this brilliance!