Kairo Said “I Can’t” Twice – Imagine my reaction

I hate the phrase “I can’t.” During my childhood, I used it as a crutch and excuse to avoid challenges. “I can’t” made me believe that I was unattractive, incapable, and weaker than my peers. However, when I matured, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Variations of “I can’t” lived inside of everyone that I knew. The dreams that made us feel extravagant withered away with time because our internal voices became infected by the disease of doubt. So when my toddler said, “I can’t,” a few hours ago, I lost my mind.

my toddler says i can't

How did it happen?

Kairo said “I can’t,” yesterday when his mom asked a question. The demon inside of me reared its head, but I suppressed my natural urge to correct my toddler.

Tiyaanah and I utilize different motivators when altering our boys’ behavior. Because my method is so aggressive, I try to avoid using it around her. I know that my tone and attitude make her uneasy, and I don’t want to spark a disagreement in front of the kids because appearing united makes parents stronger.

Fortunately, my boy slipped again.

Me: Kairo, take the car away from the bathroom, so you can potty.

Kairo: I can’t.

Simple right?

That’s no big deal by any standard. However, my last post spoke to the heart of “my objective” in being a stay at home dad. I don’t care about teaching my boys academically yet. Instead, I intend to help my toddlers become young men, so “I can’t” isn’t permissible on any level.

That phrase is a demon.

With my students, it would start subtly and begin slipping into their writing, reading, actions, and body language. Eventually, it would impact their grades and relationships at home. Simply saying, “I can’t do the homework because…” spawned an entire episode of failure that overtook them. However, when I intervened and inspired them, their attitudes and behavior shifted drastically.

Certain teachers make a difference

My best instructors and mentors beat “I can’t” out of me. Whether they heard me say it or not, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Lee, Dr. Eghbalieh, Dr. Vadgama, Dr. Vasquez, and James Eisman (mentor) addressed the attitude and behavior to the entire class and sometimes to me directly.

Not ironically, all those teachers were men.

My dad mentioned this issue several times when I was a kid. As I reflect on my attitude, I can tell that he hated my ideology, but I managed to mask it well behind excuses. Still, he often stressed the value of being bold and overcoming obstacles.

Now that I’m a dad, I get to pass on the wealth of knowledge.

Of all the men above, I’ve decided to take the rugged approach. Most of these guys were gentle natured, so the lesson took longer to stick. However, Eisman and Vadgama’s grit changed me the most, so that’s how I addressed Kairo.

Me: Hey, listen. Give me that.

Kairo tries to hide the toy, but I take it and he cries.

Me: I’ll wait until you’re done.

Kairo throws a mild toddler tantrum until he realizes that he’s getting nowhere.

Me: You done?


Me: Now, you listen. What did you just say a second ago?

Kairo: I dunno.

Me: You said, “I can’t.” You can say a whole lot of things in this house, but that is never allowed around me or anywhere. You can say, “I don’t want to.” And you can get in trouble for saying, “No!” but if you ever say, “I can’t,” that’s when you get in trouble with me. I hate that word. I don’t want you to ever say it again. Do you understand me?


Me: “I can’t” is not allowed.

Accepting responsibility

I typed the conversation so you can see how poorly I addressed the issue.

You can probably see ways to improve that dialogue…or monologue. The thing is, being a dad isn’t about getting your conversations right. When Kairo gets older, we will get to the heart of the issue. And once I get another chance, we’ll address having the right attitude. But my job isn’t about me being a perfect dad.

That’s why I hate teaching. Everyone wants you to recognize problems, reflect, adjust, and strive to make the perfect student. NO! Life is about imperfections.

As the boss, manager, chief, and ranking authority, I don’t need to worry about what Behavioral Psychologists think about my methods. Being a dad is about being present and loving. Because love is so ambiguous, I expect to have hiccups.

However, I know that Kairo will be a better father than me, and so will Kalel. They’ll be better because they received my love and attention. That’s what being a dad is all about.

If you’re wondering where he learned “I can’t,” it was from me. I let him watch Super Why without considering the consequences. They use that phrase WAY too much. I take responsibility for the choice, and I intend to cut it out of the rotation until he’s mature enough to understand that they also learn “I can.”

5 thoughts on “Kairo Said “I Can’t” Twice – Imagine my reaction

    1. That’s the truth! But don’t get me wrong, my response wasn’t a mistake. In my opinion, I didn’t make a single mistake. My actions just weren’t what some might consider “right.” I love the way that I responded to Kairo and the way that I raise my boys. In the end, I’m just acknowledging that it’s not the “best” method by every standard.

      Ahah! Unless you mean Super Why… Hahaha yeah that’s a mistake. I learned. I learned.

  1. I love this post, I appreciate your view of fatherhood and I am happy you are reflecting on the way you build up your wife and sons, Shif.

    My niece was playing in my hair yesterday and said the same thing. Something inside me shook as well…like, I can’t let her think she just can’t do things! That’s not how she will succeed! And it felt urgent. I told her she could and modeled twisting my hair. I said, “yes you can! just like Titi, watch!” She went back to playing in my hair. I don’t know why she thought I expected her to twist my hair, but somehow, she decided she couldn’t “play” correctly. Or she just wanted some attention. But, I hope we have more moments like this, where we teach each other something. i want to create more unstructured play time with the girls so we don’t always have an objective. I just want them to explore, ask questions, and enjoy themselves, while knowing they can do anything.

    1. Freakin’ Vogue!!! You can’t just warm my heart with this Black Girl Magic comment like that. It’s important for kids to know that they “can do anything.” Establishing limitations at a young age is the worst. It hinders so much of our ability to visualize and execute in the future.

      Thank you for the response. I love it so much.

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