As parents we have a very difficult time seeing our children in challenging situations. We want to feed them when they’re hungry, comfort them when they’re sad, and keep them happy at all times. But we honestly know that keeping them happy at all times is impossible, and that it’s more important to teach them resilience. Children learn resilience by being presented with real-life challenges and developing the skills to overcome or cope with those challenges.
While that all sounds nice, helping children to develop resilience can make us feel all crazy inside. Kids being frustrated during a challenge pulls at our heart strings and urges us to swoop in to help. But, frustration is not a bad thing and it actually allows for learning. In the image above, you can see that on Mt. Frustration, just when frustration is about to peak, you find something special – the Sweet Spot. That Sweet Spot is when we realize we have to try something new, change our behavior, and step outside of our comfort zone because what we’ve done before isn’t working. If, as parents, we jump in too quickly our children can’t reach their own Sweet Spots and learning opportunities are missed.
What does that Sweet Spot look like?
All of us adults have had a million Sweet Spots in our lives. When our favorite jeans don’t fit, we get serious about losing weight. When we start to feel sluggish or not so sparkly, we think about changing our diet. When we get a cold, we make soup. Those Sweet Spots are when we are pushed to make changes. Sometimes they are the defining moments of our lives. For children, those Sweet Spots become the milestones of development – when your child rolls over, sits up, walks or says her first words. Those Sweet Spots are when you can see the wheels turning in your child’s head and you know connections are being made.
But, how does this all relate to language development?
When things aren’t working, a child hits the Sweet Spot and he figures out he has to try something new. Sometimes that means saying a new word. In fact, I often think of speech therapy as a training course in climbing Mt. Frustration, because we are trying to help children hit that Sweet Spot over and over. That means frustrating them a little to get them to stretch and grow into talking, or talking more, or saying more complex ideas.
A mom shared with me a story about her child’s “mean” speech therapist. She said all the therapist does is make her son mad by holding a ball the he wants and making him ask for it over and over. It sounded to me like the therapist was using the I Hold, You Talk Technique to encourage the boy to make a request and to push him to that Sweet Spot where he would try to say “ball”. Now, I can’t speak to whether or not the therapist was doing the technique effectively, and while we do try to make therapy fun and motivating, it’s hard work. Asking a child to come out of their comfort zone and trek up Mt. Frustration over and over is serious stuff. Sometimes it can be hard for a parent to watch.
At home, it doesn’t have to be hard work. You can gently use the I Hold, You Talk Technique with your child during snack, while stacking blocks, or when putting puzzles together. You can show your child you are ready and listening by using the Tell Me Face. With your face and body you can show you believe in him and are ready to hear what new thing he has to say. You can even just let Mt. Frustration occur naturally. When your child is precariously mounting his bike, opening a tricky jar, or negotiating with a friend over a toy, don’t rush over to fix things. Sit near by and watch him come to that Sweet Spot on his own. Wait to see what he figures out or says.
What happens when you pass the Sweet Spot?
A little frustration is good. Too much frustration is bad. When your child passes the Sweet Spot he reaches a point where no learning can happen. In a tantrum, a melt-down or a shut-down, your child doesn’t feel safe enough to come out of his or her comfort zone to try something new. For some children Mt. Frustration is small, not taking much for them to reach the top and blow, while other children can slowly climb a very tall Mt. Frustration. So, know your child. If you push too hard one time, that’s okay. You’ll know to pull back next time.
For all children, the biggest key to keeping your child’s frustration at a manageable level is to stay within the child’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). For example, if your child is just beginning to use words, it may be too much to ask him to say “apple” for snack. Instead, you may help him sign “apple” while you model the verbal word. He is still practicing using language, and he gets to hear the word so he’ll have it when he’s ready to use it.
Remember, to allow your child to be frustrated. It’s part of learning. Your job as a parent is not to take the frustration away but to help guide him through these opportunities to stretch and grow.
Also, if you’d like to read more on this subject, Janet Lansbury, who writes incredibly thoughtful parenting advice at Elevating Childcare, explains frustration so well in her post about being “stuck” at Super-Protective Factor. Janet also inspired Gina, The Twin Coach, to write this great post about parents sitting back and watching kids learn.
What frustrated your child lately? Did he hit a Sweet Spot and try something new?Email this article »