We ask a lot of our children now. As a therapist specializing in parent-child therapy in Washington, DC, I work with children who are asked to learn and master tasks at an accelerated pace. Parents have wonderful intentions but I often remind them that while their child is magnificently aware and attuned, their brains are still developing and not yet fully formed.
With this in mind, imagine how tough it is to manage frustrations of learning how to master tasks such as learning how to read, write, tie shoes, or button up a shirt. None of these things are mastered immediately. We ask children to experience a semblance of frequent failure early on when we teach them daily living skills. That’s a lot for a little one to manage! I teach parents that they play a pivotal role in modeling self-control to their children. Here are three steps to teach your child how to navigate frustrating moments instead of reacting impulsively or giving up:
Act it out/out loud
You know the situations that are tough for your little one. For some, it’s when their tower falls over. For others maybe it’s when they can’t tie their shoes. Rather than trying to talk to your child in the moment, instead, when your child is calm, pretend you are in a similar situation. Show your child that they are not alone. Use this situation to teach your child how to navigate it. Talk out loud to yourself to narrate the situation.
Name the emotion
This is a great opportunity to teach your child how to identify an emotion you observe them expressing often. For example, if your child often becomes frustrated when trying to tie their shoes, act it out and name it. “Tying my shoes is so hard! I feel so frustrated because I keep on trying and I can’t do it!” To teach a child how to express themselves and identify what is happening in their body and mind is instrumental to socio-emotional development.
We certainly don’t want to stop there. Once you have identified the emotion, now it’s time to self-repair. It’s helpful to have a few options here to physically cope, cognitively cope, and seek support if needed.
“I need to take three big blowfish breaths [do it]. Stretch my arms way up to the sky and bring them down like noodles [do it]. This is hard but I can try it again. I am going to try three more times really hard. If it doesn’t work, I am going to ask my mom/dad to show me again and help me.”
These three steps are a way to demonstrate that failure is normal, give your child language to talk through bad feelings, and model problem-solving. I often coach parents that once isn’t enough. It may take a few times with different scripts, but your child learns from you. You are their greatest teacher. Once s/he demonstrates that they are holding on to what you have taught them, praise them for working hard and being calm!