It's a common sentence to hear in our house: "Mom, do it!"
My toddler loves to try new things but after a few trials and failures, he tends to give up. He gets frustrated by a puzzle piece that doesn't fit, a block that doesn't sit, a sticker that doesn't match...
He doesn't give up on the completion of the task though. When the frustration gets the better of him, he wants me to do it.
Isn't it common? I usually find myself eager to jump in to help but I manage to pause—to let him finish the task, not me.
In moments like these, one needs something to say to the frustrated toddler without providing the actual help. That thing we say should have them encouraged and get them back to trying. It should also help their frustration step back, and excitement take over.
What to say in these moments? Let's rewind a bit and figure out what our toddlers needs. They need to:
- Accept the frustration.
- Tolerate the frustration.
- Be eager to get back to trying.
- Enjoy the process of trying (and failing).
Here's what worked for me. When your toddler tends to stop trying and urge you to do it, try this 3-step coaching:
1) Validate their frustration.
Let's start with what won't work: "Come on, it's not that difficult. Look... "
Not only does this invalidate the frustration behind the failure, but it also makes the child think they are incompetent to complete such an "easy" task.
Nobody wants to feel incompetent on top of frustrated, so they just give up trying.
TRY THIS: "You are right to feel awful when you can't get it done at the first trial."
2) Say you'd be frustrated too.
The next step is to empathize.
Who among us doesn't feel frustrated when we screw up? Yes, failing leads to success. And it feels terrible.
TRY THIS: "I also feel frustrated when I can't figure out something I really wanna get done."
3) Play out the "try-fail-succeed" sequence with a mantra.
Kids learn through imitation and play. Gamify the feelings behind trying and failing with a fun mantra you invent.
Why does this work? When they chase the feeling of self-pride that comes after frustration with a fun mantra, they tolerate the frustration better.
TRY THIS: When you feel that way, we can sing, "Couldn't do it, couldn't do it, couldn't do it. Did it!"