This may be a familiar scenario: we ask our kids to do something we know they can do. Despite its simplicity, they complain, “It’s too difficult! I can’t do it! You do it for me!”

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method to handle this situation because our reaction will depend on what’s happening for the kid and us, at that time. If you’d like help, here are five options worth considering:

1. Give them just enough assistance to get them through.

There’s a middle ground between leaving them to do it independently and taking over entirely. See if you can offer them just enough help to get unstuck.

“Here, I’ll hold your shoe, and you can put your foot in.”

“I’ll hold the bottom of your bag, and you can zip it.”

“Let’s take our plates to the sink together.”

2. Be okay with not completing the task.

When children feel forced to do something, they may resist it. If the task is not important or urgent, try leaving it aside for now, and see if anything changes. 

“Don’t want to try it right now? That’s okay.”

“Don’t want to jump in yet? Sure.”

“Don’t feel like wearing your socks with your shoes today? Sounds fine to me.”

3. Establish healthy boundaries. 

There will be times when we won’t be able to help even if we want to. It can be heartbreaking when they’re trying their best and looking to you for a quick rescue. Letting our children know we can’t help right now is okay. You can model saying “no” and showing your trust in their abilities. Remember, this is not rejecting their needs but choosing how to expend your energy. 

“My hands are full right now. You can figure it out yourself first or wait for me to help.”

“I’m unable to help at the moment. What else can you do to figure it out?”

4. Reflect their feelings. 

Empathy goes a long way. When we can identify and name their feelings, it helps them to feel heard and understood. Sometimes, kids just want to know that we can see things from their side.

“It feels SO hard, yah? I feel ya. Shoelaces can be tricky to get the hang of.”

“Your new bed feels very different from your crib, doesn’t it? New things take some time to get used to.”

“There are a lot of blocks on the floor, aren’t there? And it feels like it could take forever to pick them up.”

5. “Pamper” them. 

If there have been big changes in their lives lately—like a new baby in the house—kids might need a little extra reassurance that we are still there to care for them, just like before. They might feel smaller or less capable than they did yesterday. Giving them extra tender loving care may be the appropriate thing.

“Need some help with your shoes today? I got you.”

“Do you want to sit on my lap while you eat your snack?”

“Even though you can brush your own hair right now, it feels nice when someone else helps you do it, doesn’t it?”

We might struggle to keep our frustrations in check, so here’s an analogy that might help us avoid exploding on our kids: We are perfectly capable of making dinner, but if someone were to offer to do it for you and do the dishes too, wouldn’t we want that? 

We all want to be helped and taken care of sometimes.