Watching our kids struggle


Screaming, crying, and writhing on the floor for 10 solid minutes.

This is just a typical response to not being able to one’s shirt over one’s head….in my house, anyway.

A certain 4-year old in our house is going through a phase that can only be described as the “I Can’t Do It” phase. He gets extremely frustrated when anything requires even the tiniest bit more effort than he is willing to give.

On most days, I honestly would just give up and put his shirt on him to simply avoid the the entire dramatic, exhausting scene altogether. But today, God gave me a bit more patience and perseverance to be an encourager and a cheerleader instead of a doer.

I know this child can put his shirt on himself. He dressed himself for more than six months straight. But for some reason, he has recently reverted back to being dependent on me to clothe him.

But today, I let him pick out his shirt and then stood to the side while I watched him struggle. I didn’t get close to him, even when he pleaded with me to come ‘rescue’ him in his distress. I just stood there while calmly but enthusiastically saying, “You can do it! Put your arms in, your head through and pull it down. I know that it’s hard but keep trying! Way to go! You almost have it! See? I told you could do it!”

I didn’t just stand there and watch him struggle to be cruel or mean or because I was lazy, I did it because it was better for him in the long run. I am certain that he does not want to be 17-years old and still relying on his mom to help him get dressed.

Watching your kids struggle is hard, and I can only imagine it gets exponentially worse as they get older.

But it is often necessary to instill character traits (like perseverance) in a child for the long-run.

It is easy for us to see the long-term good that promoting independence does for our kids. They will be capable adolescents, teenagers, and adults one day because we let them struggle. We have taught them perseverance, among other things.

But when it is us who are struggling, it is an entirely different story.

I imagine God feels much like I did with my son when he sees us throwing our huge tantrums over a huge-t0-us-at-the-time-but-ultimately-small-in-the-whole-scheme-of-things issue.

Like when the sewing machine breaks in the middle of a project (for someone else) or when a child is being consistently disobedient or when I can’t find my car keys and we are late for school…again. I just feel like throwing a big fit.

He knows the end goal is to make us better. Unlike us, however, where we are trying to get our children to be independent, God wants us to learn to be dependent on Him.

Like me in the scenario just described, God is probably aching to help…to swoop in and save the day. But He often stands to the side, watching us struggle…all the while knowing that it will ultimately draw us closer to Him.

And to me, that’s a struggle that’s worth it…even when it hurts.



  1. thank you thank you thank you. EXACTLY what i needed to read for my *almost 4 year old who is doing the SAME EXACT THING! I don’t usually leave a comment but I do love your blog!

  2. I often equate my self as being a spiritual toddler when it comes to food I am begging and crying for a certian fruit snack but God would really like me to eat my vegetables not because he is a bad parent but because he is a good parent and he knows what will help me to grow and be strong. Every time I try to get my kids to eat good food I try to remind my self not to DEMAND fruit snacks from Heavenly Father

  3. My son is 4.5 and has been dressing himself for at least a year now, and he is doing the same thing! Thank you for this post. I was beginning to doubt if I was doing the right thing by continuing to make him work at it. I explain to him that he gets more privileges being the oldest in our family, so he also has more responsibilities. I

  4. My daughter is now 3.5 and is in that independent, wanting to do everything and if I help her she gets upset phase. Well when trying to get her PJ’s on a few weeks ok she got really upset because she was struggling. After 10 minutes and a red face she finally got them on. It was very hard not to help! I did offer but she refused anyways but it was worth it when she had a huge sense of accomplishment after finally getting them on!

  5. Great post, Janae! I loved this line: “But He often stands to the side, watching us struggle…all the while knowing that it will ultimately draw us closer to Him”. Becoming a parent helped me understand that perspective first hand, during the meltdown moments you described. Thanks for the reminder to find the lessons in the chaos!

  6. “It is one thing to show your child the way, and a harder thing to then stand out of it.” – Robert Brault

    This is a fantastic post ! It can be so challenging as parents (especially moms) to not jump in and “help” our children when they struggle. We all want the best for our kids, and sometimes it seems like the temporary fix of doing things for them is the right (or easiest) thing to do. Quite the opposite is true though.

    Teaching young children to oversome their obstacles and conquer their challenges, helps to increase self-esteem and confidence, and will give them necessary life skills to assist them as they get older…when those obstacles and challenges are much greater.

    I don’t know what it is about 3-4 year olds, but my boys have also gone through that “I CAN’T do it” phase too. It’s frustrating to see our kids struggle, but it’s even more frustrating to see them struggle with something they have previously mastered. Grrr ! :-)

    1. I typically do not leave comments but was moved by this post as I am experiencing the the Lord work through this very concept not only with my 4 year old but also in my own life as an adult. How fitting for me to read this post today.

      Sharon, I especially liked your comment about it being frustrating to watch our children or even personally struggle with something “previously mastered”.

      I suppose we can all follow the advice that I give my 4 year old when he’s having this kind of “can’t do it” experience… Calm down, Settle down, Take a deep breath and Give it a try!

      I stopped by the blog to find a previously posted resource for my son and found something that ministered to my soul today.

      Thank you Lord for sending this timely word through these ladies.

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