Moving from Frustration to Futility: my child’s accomplishment

Gordon Neufeld writes in his book “Hold Onto Your Kids”, that one of the most important lessons a child can learn is how to move from frustration to futility. Frustration is what you feel when something doesn’t work. Futility is acceptance that there is no fixing it, and moving on. Many children, he says, never learn how to move past frustration into futility, and such children are at risk when they become older.

It’s very tempting as a parent to want to solve our child’s problems, and to fix everything for them. No parent likes to see their child upset. Even though I’m aware of the importance of the above lesson, I often find myself tempted to “rescue” my children by going to extraordinary lengths. But what I’ve learned through 3 recent examples is that DD is already quite adept at moving from frustration to futility. And it’s made me rather determined to keep up with resisting the urge to “rescue” her.

1) A couple weeks ago we went to Ikea, where we bought DD some markers. She adores these markers (had a set ages ago that eventually dried up). We went to my mother’s place after shopping, and when we finally left that evening we forgot the markers. When DD found out, she was very distraught and begged us to go back for them. It was late, and turning back would have meant a long detour, and we were almost home. Yet still, hearing how upset she was broke my heart and I was tempted for a brief moment to turn back. But I realized that would be extreme, so I simply stated that it wasn’t possible to go back and get them and then offered to hold her hand since I understood this was upsetting. I was impressed with how quickly she accepted the situation. A few more token sobs and wails (while holding my hand…so sweet!) and it was over with and she was on to some other, happier subject.

2) Today, I was in the whole foods store with her, and she asked for some fruit-sweetened gummi bears. While I was getting them from the bulk section, she found a pre-packaged bag that was too big and too expensive. I explained we couldn’t get that bag, but she could have the ones from the bulk section, or she could have some other of the acceptable treats in that section. She cried loudly, protested, all of which made me a bit self-concious. I stuck to my guns for a while, then started to think “is this all worth it, a couple extra bucks?” but I realized I felt strongly about this limit and it was important to follow it through. So I gently explained one more time that we couldn’t get that bag because it was too big, and showed her the alternatives. I gave her a hug, and all of a sudden she stopped crying and asked for some “sundrops” instead (these are an organic, fruit-sweetened version of M&M’s). From that point on she was fine. (what I love about the bulk section is I get tiny amounts of these candies – she’s happy and it’s not too much sweets for her).

3) Later that day, we were in the movie rental store and she was picking out movies. Usually we get two (they are 99 cents for kids stuff) but last week we got 3 because she wasn’t feeling well and watched more movies than usual. She wanted to pick 3 this time but I said 2. Again the tears started. I looked to DH for support, and he nodded, so I said “sorry honey, but we’re only getting two. You have Blue’s Clues and Alphabet Jungle, would you like to trade one of these for something else?”. And her reply was in the most normal of voices “no mama, I want Alphabet Jungle and Blue’s Clues” and with that she happily headed off for the checkout.

These examples all remind me that I don’t NEED to “rescue” my DD. That she is capable of getting through these situations. But I realized today that she is actually quite adept at it. She is adept at moving from frustration to futility. And I felt very proud of that. Because Neufeld says it’s a skill whose development is readily messed up by ineffective parenting methods. So here’s a pat on the back to me and DH!

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