“With the knowledge that their parents will always help them handle the behaviors they can’t handle themselves, children feel safe to struggle, make mistakes, grow, and learn with confidence.”
– Janet Lansbury
It’s important to allow children to struggle. This is how they learn how to handle stressful situations and how to solve their own problems like, say, when a teddy bear falls in the water or they spill their juice which for them might be the end of the world, right?
Did you know that babies start learning how to handle stress right after they’re born when they breastfeed? They sometimes turn around from their mom’s breast which causes them to loose eye contact with their mom. This is when they get a small dose of so-called stress hormones, this situation is stressful to them. Yet, they do it regularly. The very important thing here is that they go back to their mom’s eyes and this is when their hormones regulate and their bodies go back to balance. So, they stress out for a moment to then go back to normal and they’re totally fine.
Stress response is not only about their conscious minds but also about their bodies and all the chemical reactions that occur while in stress, like mentioned above. This is what they need in order to cope with it at any stage of development. Once a parent does everything for them and protects them from all the stress and all the little situations that might cause crying or getting mad, they don’t have a chance to learn how to do it themselves and, in effect, they’ll feel incapable of anything and they’ll depend on you to do everything for them.
It’s OK for children to cry. It’s OK for them to get frustrated. It doesn’t cause them any harm because they go back to balance and a human body is perfectly able to handle small amounts of regular stress. What’s more, small children need small doses of stress regularly in order to master their stress response and be able to handle it better and better each time.
When you see your child getting upset while trying to do something that doesn’t work at that time, know that this is how they learn. Once they complete the task, they’ll be very satisfied with themselves and their self-confidence will go higher. They’ll know that they’re perfectly capable of doing things on their own and they don’t need others’ help all the time. If someone ran to them quickly to rescue them and do what they wanted for them, they might get upset or even start crying. Even if not, the message that will be received by them is that they’re not actually capable and they do need help with everything. If this happens all the time, your child will get fully depended on you and won’t feel comfortable and confident doing anything on his own.
Those who know how to cope with stress have generally better lives. They have less pains (because imagine being in stress response all the time – your body is always tense, inflammation is on a high level and so you start getting aches and pains, in time it can lead to all kinds of health problems, including cancers). Children also get more eager to learn when they see that they can do so much on their own.
And how to handle our children struggling? Just be. Be there for your children, support them and listen to them when they have a problem. Try to not intervene when stress happens because this is how children learn to cope with it and how they grow into smart, self-confident and happy adults. And, what’s very important, name their feelings and emotions. Be a narrator, say out loud what you see and hear even if your child is an infant and can’t talk yet. Examples would include:
“I see that you’re very upset!”
“You just can’t fit the block in the hole!”
“You keep trying and trying, and it doesn’t work!”
“You’re very sad that you can’t make it work!”
Remember though that we’re not talking here about high stress situations like falling from a high chair, being too close to a coming car or dealing with death of some family member. Situations like these are much different and a very high or/and frequent doses of stress aren’t healthy for anyone, children included. In fact, studies show that this can damage a part of baby’s brain that’s responsible for, for example, memory. That’s why so many people don’t remember their traumatic childhood.
Balance is important in everything. Letting your children struggle doesn’t mean leaving them on their own. What it means is supporting them and being them if they really need us but also letting them cry and get upset if this is how they feel. Only this way can they learn how to handle stress which will be very beneficial for them in the future.
Agnieszka Kirchner, a certified parenting coach basing her work on a model based on mutual respect and love, here to help with any issues with your children or communication with others. For more information please visit RewardingParenting.com