I Can Do Hard Things


There’s a whole list of life lessons that we as parents want to help our kids learn, and it seems that every parent prioritizes this list differently.

The lesson I tend to focus on the most is I can do hard things.  I think this stems from the fact that Ari’s first reaction to any task set before him is that he “can’t do it”.  This concerns me.  Life is full of hard things.  Making decisions, learning a new skill, standing up for what you believe, passing a test, etc.  Life requires a certain amount of perseverance to survive, and an even bigger amount if you want to actually succeed.  I want Ari to know he has it in him.

For this reason I’m constantly pointing out to Ari when he does something that he was convinced he couldn’t do.  Fold his own laundry, draw a picture of a train, learn to read, jump off a rock, check the mail by himself, ride a bike, and hike to the top of a volcano.

Yes, a volcano. I’ve been eying Lassen Volcanic National Park for awhile now, mainly for their cinder cone. It seemed like the perfect hike for a volcano-obsessed 4-year old. You can actually peer down into the crater! Ari was so excited. So pumped to do it. I prepped him. I told him it would be a hard hike. He was ready… Until he hit mile 1.4.

The first mile or so is a very gradual uphill. Not steep when measured by any other human. But my son was thrown out of his comfort zone by the ever-so-slight incline.  Luckily the view of the volcano in the distance at mile 1.2 was enough to get him going again. Likewise, the view of the steep trail at mile 1.4 was enough to discourage him.

It loomed in the distance.  It looked a lot bigger than I had imagined.  All of the sudden he “couldn’t do it” it was going to be “too hard”.  I’ll admit…Joe and I looked at each other like “yeah, I’m not so sure he can do it either.”  Of course we didn’t let Ari know that. We assured him that it would be hard, but that with every step the top of the volcano would get closer and closer and we could go as slow as he needed.   “And Ari! If we get to the top we can look straight down into a giant crater!!“  Thank goodness for his love of craters.

It was a steep trail indeed. Walking on cinder we took one step up and slid a 1/2 step back.  Ari collapsed on the trail in true dramatic fashion several times. We would rest.  Help him up.  Make up more knock-knock jokes to occupy his thoughts and continue on. There were times when we sorta wanted to let him just give up.  But we didn’t.  We couldn’t.

He made it.  And I think the view from the top was that much better for the drama of the hike in.  I wish I had a picture of his face the moment he saw that crater.  The huge grin.  The squealing.   Him yelling “We did it!”   All of us running for cover as a gale-force wind threatened to catch us mid-victory dance and throw us straight into the crater.

Thank you volcano, for showing my son that he can do hard things.

20 Comments so far

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  1. Way to go Ari! My 2 year old just learned “I Can’t”: this week – I hate those words!

    • Bring the Kids – Oh no! Why do they learn that so young!!!

  2. When I was 15 or so I remember sitting in the driver’s seat of my dad’s manual-transmission jeep. He’d asked me to inch it forward a few feet in the driveway. The seat was pushed all the way back for his longer legs, and the car was on a slope, so only by hanging onto the steering wheel could I keep myself pulled forward far enough to reach the clutch, brake, and gas. Without the support of the backrest of the seat, however, and compounded by the fact that I had to take a hand off the steering wheel to move the shifter, I found that I couldn’t push down hard enough on the clutch to put the car in gear. “Come on! Move the car!” he shouted in typical dad-fashion. “I CAN’T!” I wailed back. He stormed over to me, shoving his head in the drivers side window, “That’s the wrong attitude and won’t get this car moving! I don’t ever want to hear you say I CAN’T again!”
    Remarkably, I realized later, I completely phased the phrase from my vocabulary, and am reluctant to this day to start a sentence with those words.
    I’m so glad Ari is learning this lesson at a much younger age than I did–and without you even having to raise your voice! =)

    • Liv – What a great story! What a great Dad! You know, I’ve never thought about it until now, but you really do have a can do attitude. More do than most people. Hummm. That really must have stuck.

      Also. I may not have raised my voice on the hike, but I’ll admit, I did get rather frustrated a few times…

  3. My two yr old can do anything, so long as i leave a trail of goldfish in front of him, lol.

    Such a sweet post…and such an important lesson to learn

    • Sarah – Hahaa. Ya. I probably should have mentioned that there were lots of suckers involved!

  4. trieste

    I love this! I think it is so important! Plus it help remind me at the same time that I can do hard things too.

    • Trieste – Thanks! Ya, I should probably look at this as a lesson for myself too…

  5. Jana

    Thanks for sharing! This brought a tear to my eye.

    • Jana – Yessss! That’s what I was going for. Well, not really, but I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for the comment.

  6. That is such a great story! Hiking and being outdoors has so many life lessons for us, if we just keep our eyes and hearts open. I have personally gained confidence in my life from difficult outdoor excursions I have done. I know I want that for my kids, too. My son has a similar attitude about many hikes we do, and I find it tricky to know when to push him and when to back off. We have our share of moments that aren’t fun, too. But I almost never regret making it to our goal and back with the kids. I think we all can do so much more than we think we can! Good for you for expanding Ari’s horizons.

    • Hiker Mama – I agree, the outdoors can teach all sorts of lessons, I too have learned quite a few extremely valuable lessons. Self confidence, is a great example, I can think of many an experience where the outdoors played a hand in me gaining confidence. So glad I had those experiences.

  7. Bonnie

    This brings to mind a hike to Secret Lake in one of the Wasatch Front Canyons. We passed a little fellow that was about Ari’s age. He was whining about the trail and the heat and his shoes. He was a miserable little fellow. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the wise parents Ari has. His mommy was squatted beside him saying “What do you want Momma to do? You decide. Mommy and Daddy will do whatever you want” His daddy was standing a few feet away staring up the trail, looking resigned, clearly wanting to be somewhere else. I felt so sorry for the little fellow, primarily because his mommy was placing the burden of making the decision about what to do for the whole family on his little shoulders. He could tell that daddy wanted to go on while mommy wanted to go back and neither of them had the character to make a hard decision on his behalf. So they left it up to him. I’m pretty sure that his “I can’t” had more to do with the decision than with the trail.
    Your intent was to teach Ari that he “Can!,” but you also taught him that you will hold fast when it comes time to help him do the hard thing, and more importantly, that you won’t burden him beyond his capacity. Were you to ask me, I’d say that the trust you established was at least as important as the accomplishment. When he’s 16, your hike up Lassen will pay dividends.

    • BOnnie – Wow. What a great comment, so full of good advise! I love that last paragraph, gave me chills. I never really though of it that way… I love it. Thanks Bonnie!!

  8. What a great lesson and such a cool experience. I’d like to make that hike myself!

    • Kim – Thanks! Yes, all lessons aside the hike was really coo!!

  9. This is a great life lesson! One of our kids has a ‘can’t do’ reflex and we’ve been working on it for years, it’s so important. ‘Can’t do’ is so limiting and ‘Can do’ or at least ‘I’ll try’ so empowering. The idea that doing hard things is good for you is a great theme to talk to kids about. It has such universal application!

    • Stuart – Glad to see I’m not the only one who has a kid with that attitude. Someday, they will thank us. I hope ;) Thanks for sharing the article, another great one!

  10. […] 2. I can do hard things […]

  11. […] I have no clue what this the name of this campground is, but I can tell you that it’s between the Cinder Cone trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park and Highway 44. It’s a little Forest Service campground tucked away and apparently not advertised. It’s such a great little spot with big trees, a little stream running by and just a few miles outside of the park. I posted about this trip here. […]


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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