Z is rolling around on the floor.
She tried tying her shoelaces, and it was not working the way she wanted it to. “IT’S THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE.”
I want to point out all the ways in which it is, in fact, NOT the worst day of her life.
To say that the ice-cream was good. Playing with her friends looked so fun. Reading the book together.
I could also point out, appealing to her logical brain (that currently is of course out of action), that tying shoelaces is difficult, that she will learn it in time…
I can list all the things that will aim at negating her feelings, and I bite my tongue. She is frustrated, and me pointing out that she has no right to be is unlikely to make her feel better. (I am tempted, though. Boy, am I tempted…)
I notice with massive words, my emotions get triggered.
“It’s the worst day ever” “I will never get what I want” “I’m terrible at this/everything” always, never, nobody…
Instead I sit there, caring for two children overcome with emotions right now - one in front of me and one inside of me, that both want attention, and are both increasingly frustrated. Isn’t that the hardest part of being a parent?
My mantra in-the-moment for my inner child is usually “Wow, this is really triggering for you, eh? Let’s take care of that one later on today/tomorrow.” She believes me now, because I make sure to keep that promise.
My go-to for the child in front of me, who is in the “always/never/the worst” state, is to provide a safe container so that she can express her frustration, feel it and move through it. It needs to come out, all emotions do, and if it is coming out right now, clearly it is the best possible time for it. It might not be the most convenient time for me, but emotions rarely fit into our schedules.
So here we are.
I acknowledge her emotional reality
“That sounds haaaard” I say lying next to her. Somehow this allows her to say or do everything she needs to do right now to express whatever is going on for her - scream, kick, yell, agree that it’s haaaard. Whatever is needed to express the frustration that things are not how she wishes them to be.
I support expression
For frustration to move through our system, we need to know how our system lets it out. Z’s way is to kick and destroy. We have stacks of paper that I keep handy just for that. She reaches for them now, and starts tearing them into the tiniest shreds. She used to want to break plates and jars, so we have found things she can destroy. Some people yell, some punch, some kick. I have a tennis racket that I got for my birthday from my husband. I don’t play tennis…
I catch her on the other side
Once she moves past frustration, I catch her on the other side. Often there are tears on the other side. Sometimes she moves into play. Today she just sits there, tired from tearing all the papers and looks at me. “Tying shoelaces is hard sometimes” she says. “Yeah” I say “It can be. Do you want to try again and I can help?” We talk about how sometimes things are hard in the moment, and how our brain tells us they will NEVER get better “But they do get better” she says tying her laces.
I catch myself
I make time to connect with that little child that was getting triggered inside of me. It can be later on in the day, in the week. There is a reason this child got triggered, and I want to know why. If I don’t, she will forever get triggered by the same thing, over and over again. I talk to friends about it. I talk to my therapist about it. I journal about it.
Somewhere, an insight will emerge, and I will be able to hold that child inside of me through her frustration as well, and she will not need to react to the same thing again.
Frustration is part of life. We feel frustrated multiple times a day, and so do our children - the world is perhaps rarely exactly how we would love it to be. And befriending our frustration, getting to know it a bit better, and letting our children experience it with us beside them, might be one of the best life journeys.
As always, we start with ourselves.
Some wonderful resources on supporting children through frustration: From Janet Lansbury https://www.janetlansbury.com/2015/10/help-frustrated-child/ From Neufeld Institute https://neufeldinstitute.org/what-to-do-with-frustration/