Developmental Readiness

Won’t and Can’t

Sometimes we forget (or don’t realize) that a child cannot do what we ask. We think they won’t do it. Often on some level, we believe that they are choosing either to do something or not to do something. We need to remember where they are developmentally. This is fairly easy with preschoolers, but as students move through elementary school, middle school and high school, we often assume they have more skills than they do. We have to keep the development of their brains in mind. Today we know that the part of our brains responsible for many social-emotional and executive function skills is developed last, and in fact, is not fully developed until a person is in their early to mid-twenties.

It is particularly frustrating when a child did something yesterday but for some reason, today they do not …. or more likely, they cannot. We need to remember the other factors involved, which could include fatigue, hunger, stress and especially for older children, social and peer influences, etc. For some children, trauma is also a factor and for others maybe it is their mental capacity or cognitive ability.

One of my favourite quotes from Dr. Ross Greene is, “Kids do well if they can.”


When children enter preschool they still depend on adults to control their behaviour and regulate their social and emotional experiences. Social and emotional skills for preschoolers include:

  • basic friendship skills
  • play skills
  • emotional understanding
  • intentional self-control
  • basic social problem-solving.

Opportunities to practice skills need to be plentiful, so that young children experience repeated, adult-supported opportunities to use and refine their skills performance, with feedback and positive consequences. Preschool children may also need explicit support to develop:

  • vocabulary
  • oral language
  • social perception
  • reasoning skills

(p. 138, Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning)

These foundational skills are important to support as children grow older. If anything interferes with these skills, it may also interfere with their social-emotional development.