Family Journeys, Parenting

“Tough Nut to Crack”

Author: Karen Copeland

image via pixabay


Idiom: Tough nut to crack (

If something is a tough nut to crack, it is difficult to find the answer or solution. When used about a person, it means that it is difficult to get them to do or allow what you want. ‘Hard nut to crack’ is an alternative.

“He’s a tough nut to crack.”

I have had this phrase spoken to me on several occasions over the years and each time I hear it, I am stunned into silence. These words being shared are always in reference to my son.

It happened again last week. I sat with it for a few days before I even gave voice to it. I was and am very upset, annoyed, saddened, and well a lot of emotions really. To be fair, I don’t believe these words were spoken with the intent to create this kind of response, but I felt the need to voice how hearing these words impact me.

Whenever I hear this phrase, I automatically envision my son being cracked into dozens of pieces, I see him being forced open against his will with no regard for his pleading to stop. I see him being pushed into desperately trying to meet expectations he is not yet ready for. He tries to fight it, like the shell of the nut being squeezed by the nut cracker, holding fast for as long as possible before it is no longer able.  The casing cracks and splinters and the nut stands exposed, vulnerable, defeated, sometimes smashed itself.

I see this, because I have seen it happen over and over again with my son. Well intentioned people come along and become determined they are going to reach him, that somehow trying to “crack” him is going to draw him out. When this happens, like the nut, my son implodes. He desperately tries to protect himself and as a result, becomes unreachable. Crushed.

We have learned over the years that my son does not require to be “cracked” in order to be successful. In fact, he requires quite the opposite. What happens when you take the time to build a relationship with our child, learn about his interests, likes and dislikes, acknowledge and respond to when he is letting you know he is uncomfortable? A small crack appears on his casing. Sometimes you might not see it right away, but I assure you it is there.

image via pixabayYou continue working on that relationship, building trust and confidence. A seedling emerges, and it flourishes as it sees the sun for the first time. You nurture it, treat it tenderly and with care and it grows bigger, stronger. If it starts to wilt, you take more care. And as it becomes stronger, you can ease back a little. You can start asking more of it – perhaps even try a new environment; and because it is stronger and more resilient, it survives. It grows into what it was meant to be.

We know this about our son. We have seen it happen over and over again. I wonder how we could ever believe that cracking him would result in anything but hurt, frustration and pain.

Our son will never be a nut that needs to be cracked.

I would argue that no child should be.

Language matters, friends. If this is a phrase that you have used in the past about a child, please, take a moment to reflect on what you are actually trying to say, and perhaps find a different way to say it.






3 thoughts on ““Tough Nut to Crack””

    1. Thank you Patti, over the past several weeks we have had an amazing person working with our son, who buys in and believes in the importance of developing a trusting relationship. We have watched our son thrive and flourish as a result. Nothing good comes from cracking. You might get a certain result yes, but you won’t get the true growth the child is meant to achieve, that’s for sure.


  1. I think about this often, as well–how children are seen as something that need to be opened, even it means in a forceful manner. It’s a chilling thought and I agree with you that this isn’t really true. Not everyone is here for our own control or to fit our own ideals of what a person should be.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.