I Can’t Say “I Can’t Let You”

The famous recommended parenting phrase: I can’t let you… “I can’t let you hit me.” “I can’t let you kick your brother.” “I can’t let you…”–well, you get it–we all have experienced those times when we felt we needed to say “I can’t let you”.

I understand its point and principle–and I have tried it a few times; but each of the times I’ve tried “I can’t let you…”, it felt to me (and really, it can be just me) like I was also underlyingly saying to the child that everything else you can do you’re only able to do because I let you. And (again, it can be just me–but I think this is where the challenge really is), I felt like I run the risk of starting with this 4-word phrase and dragging it somewhere else–maybe down a dark road of resentments and rants (“I can’t let you do this to me… I can’t let you treat me this way… I can’t take this…” and so on and on and on).

So (and again, it can be just me), I needed an alternate route–a way for me to immediately hit the brakes on something (something dangerous or destructive), a top-of-mind response when I need to stop something but cannot afford to Stop, Breathe, Observe, Choose (S.B.O.C.).

Instead of the 4-word phrase “I can’t let you…”, I use a 4-word sentence:

I will help you.

I can help you.

Instead of “I can’t let you hit me” or “I can’t let you kick your brother”, I’ll say “I will help you”. Then I can add, “I see you’re upset. I will help you. And I’ll help keep everyone safe.” And if needed, I’ll say, “Let’s go to a safe space and you can let out your feelings–would you like to walk there or I’ll carry you… It seems like you need me to carry you. I’ll carry you now…” (I mentioned what I may say while in a safer space here).

With “I will help you”, we’re hopefully able to communicate the limit and hold the boundary by helping the child recognize that we are in a situation where help is needed and the offer to help will start from us.

I also find that “I will help you” helps me see the child with Unconditional Positive Regard–it steers me away from judging the child’s action (and worse, the child) and lets me just see the child as someone who needs help for now.

And also importantly (since as I said this is where I think my discomfort with “I can’t let you…” lie), instead of feeling like I’m running the risk of dragging the little phrase “I can’t let you…” to a dark road of resentments and rants; with “I will help you” I feel like I’m immediately putting myself as part of the solution and taking responsibility–the important task of being the regulated adult who can offer help and who can guide us through and out of the situation peacefully and positively.

I hope this contributes to our continuous work toward being a Prepared Adult and helps us help our children.

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