Hi Dr. Joanette: My daughter is five and has a really hard time when she can’t figure out how to do something. The other day she was trying to tie her shoe. I tried to help her, and she had a meltdown, crying and yelling I can’t tie my shoes. I hate shoes. Why do I have to wear them?
Hello, and thank you for the question.
Watching our kids struggle to learn a task is hard. It’s normal to want to help them with the struggle and show them how to do the task.
Here’s the paradox of that kind of thinking. If we want our kids to learn a new task, we have to be willing to embrace watching them struggle, watching them not know how, and letting them make mistakes. This is how we set our kids up for a growth mindset, success, and achievement.
The more a child can tolerate the frustration of learning a new task, like tying her shoes, the better equipped she will be when she is older to manage disappointments, stick with her personal goals, and tolerate different viewpoints.
We have to develop a tolerance for our kid’s frustration before they can learn to develop frustration tolerance.
When your daughter struggles and gets frustrated, her mirror neurons pick up what you are reflecting to her. They are mirroring for her your relationship with her frustration. In other words, the more you are ok with watching her struggle to tie her shoes, the more she will be ok with it. Also, their mirror neurons register it all when they are watching us do a difficult job.
More than anything else a parent can do, the way they show up will impact their child’s relationship with frustration. When we show up as regulated, calm, non-blaming, unrushed, and not- outcome-driven when they struggle with a task.
In addition to their mirror neurons mirroring how we show up, between ages 2-6, our child’s brain waves are in theta. Theta is the state of the subconscious. In this state, an individual isn’t able to filter information. We absorb everything from our five senses. So her brain is also absorbing your relationship with her frustration and your level of frustration when you are performing a difficult task.
So knowing all of this, is there anything else you can do to help her build frustration tolerance?
Take some deep breaths. When we are frustrated, our body’s emotions move us out of balance, and one of the best things to bring us back to calmness is a few slow deep breaths. I call these hot cocoa breaths. They have a deep inhale, and a slow exhale. (like you are trying to cool off a cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows on top). See my blog if this is new to you. Model the hot cocoa breaths for your child when you see her getting frustrated. In her presence, take a few audible hot cocoa breaths. Reminding her to take hot cocoa breaths will be less effective.
Mantras: I love mantras because they give us something small and manageable to do when we feel overwhelmed by big emotions. Here are a few to teach your daughter. “I can do this,” “I am good at hard things,” “I like to do hard things,” and “this is tricky, but I can figure it out.”
Here is a Mantra for you: Put your hand on your heart and repeat, “I am a good parent, and my child is a good kid.”
I also want you to know I am not implying you did anything wrong when you tried to help your daughter learn to tie her shoes. It is natural, reasonable, and normal to want to help our kids when they struggle.