11 Jan On Meeting Challenges, #2: Fall & Rise
Before my son was born, a lot went wrong. Small things, mostly—the kind of annoyances and misunderstandings that pepper our days inconsequentially—but some big things too: more heartbreak and more pain than I thought I could stand. Back then I assumed every misstep and disaster was due to my youth and my lack of experience: I just hadn’t quite gotten the hang of things yet. Someday, I thought, there would come a time when I would sail through my days without trouble. Someday, surely, things would by easy.
Now that I have a toddler, I know the truth. The truth, of course, is the very little will ever feel easy. The truth is that once you have children, not only will things go wrong more often than they ever did, but now there will be witnesses. Now, there’s always someone watching, someone who wants to know why.
“Why we got lost? Why the GPS sended us the wrong way in the car and then you cried a little bit?”
“Why all that paint spilled on the floor and you said dammit about all the paint?”
“Why you aren’t making kind choices about my feelings?”*
We are an emotional, impatient, clumsy species. We are easily frustrated. We struggle. Our children know this. They are watching, always, to see whether we know. To show them we do—to make ourselves vulnerable enough to answer honestly for our (normal, human) foibles—is a gift to them and to ourselves.
It is a gift to say, “I felt scared because I thought we were lost.” To say, “I felt overwhelmed by a big mess and I wasn’t sure how I was going to clean it up by myself.” To say, “I felt angry because I thought you weren’t listening to me. I’m sorry.”
It isn’t easy, but it is a gift: to fall down. To get up again. To tell the truth about how much it hurt when you fell. To show our children what it is to be resilient.
To err, as the saying goes, is human. To err repeatedly and then, every time, talk about how, and why exactly, and then what can be done now to fix the problem (no matter how difficult or humbling an experience that may be) is a spiritual practice. Because yes, we struggle. Yes, our kids our watching. But as often as they see us fall, they can see us rise.
3 Questions to ask children when things go awry
Kids don’t have to be the only ones to ask questions when things go wrong! Asking these three questions when your kids feel challenged can help diffuse the situation and solve the problem sooner.
1. What happened?
When we help our very young children find the language to describe their experiences, we begin to help them deal constructively with setbacks and solve problems. When things go wrong, toddlers and preschoolers—like adults—may struggle to find the words to communicate what happened. Parents and caregivers can step in to both act as narrator (“Oh no, I see that the tower you were building fell down!”) and to validate the seriousness of the situation (“I’m sorry that happened to you!”)
2. How do you feel about what happened?
Helping our children name what they feel—to build an emotional vocabulary—can help them rebound faster and move on to find a solution. (“I can see that you feel really sad/disappointed/frustrated about your tower. You were working so hard to build it and then it fell down!”)
3. What can we do about what happened?
In the aftermath of a setback, it can be helpful—once your child is calm—to offer two different solutions or steps forward in order to demonstrate that there’s more than way to solve a problem. (“Would you like to put your blocks away now and take a break from building? Or would you like to try building again right away? How can I be a helper?”)
*quotes from my almost 3 year-old son.