Frustrate Your Child Today

The above words may not sound as nice as, “Do a random act of kindness today,” but they may be just as important. Stick with me as I make a case for following them. First, let me give you a few suggestions how to go about accomplishing this aim:

  1. Make clear that the newest, greatest, best birthday present they ever received will not be available for use until a hand-written thank-you card is ready for mailing.
  2. Respond to the words, “I’m bored,” with a grateful smile and a broom or mop.
  3. Meticulously follow through on carefully thought out statements such as, “Any clothing/shoes/toys/stuff left lying around the living room after bedtime will be quarantined for seven days.
  4. Present an age-appropriate poem to each child (and adult) and pick a date where only those who recite their poems will be invited to a family ice-cream social. Be flexible here and allow everyone to pick his or her poem as long as it meets approval. (The poem Fleas: Adam had ‘em should not be admissible for anyone over two-years-old.)
  5. Have a policy that unless there are the type of extenuating circumstances that occur no more than once a year,  whining never turns a no into a yes, a yes into a no, or a whining child into a quiet one watching a video or playing a game on your phone.
  6. Refuse to complain to your child’s teacher because the work is too hard unless your grandmother would have complained to your mother’s teacher over similar work. (In other words, the 8X table does need to be memorized.)

I think you get the idea.

Life frustrates babies and toddlers. They cannot communicate as well as they would like to and learning to walk automatically includes a great deal of falling and bumped heads. Generally, babies aren’t able to control their lives very much. The good news is that we can’t fix their deficiencies. We can certainly smooth the way by understand their abilities, clearing obstacles from their path, and setting routines in place that help them thrive, but we cannot yell at the pediatrician because our six-month-old isn’t walking or expressing himself in full sentences. If we saw a mother who never let her child try to crawl or walk out of fear of the child falling, we wouldn’t applaud her but hope that she found a mothering mentor. And when, after lots of failed attempts, an upright little one navigates his way across the room or builds a tower of blocks that stands, his beaming face tells us that the reward is a function of the effort.

As our children get older, their frustrations come less from the tremendous physical and physiological growth they are undergoing and more from character, intellectual and self-discipline development. Yet—and this is true for adults as well—without hitting limitations, being frustrated and overcoming those hurdles, they and we do not grow.

A thirteen-month-old crying in frustration raises our sympathies or, at least, our understanding. For the most part, we can deal with him. We can distract him or hold him or put him in his crib to fall asleep. Assuming a healthy child in a healthy atmosphere we can be pretty sure that today’s challenge will disappear over the next few weeks.

An older child yelling in frustration often scares or angers us. She may blame us for her unhappiness or demand that we fix things. After all, no one else’s parents demand written thank-you notes rather than a quick text, the other teachers let their students use calculators and everyone else her age is allowed to own a smart phone. We are the problem.

Responding in kind by yelling back and threatening punishment or, alternatively, complaining to her coach or teacher may provide temporary relief, but long-term damage. Clearing the roadblock by letting her drop a class or even by arranging prematurely for a tutor, teaches that she cannot help herself and find her own solutions. It sets her up for a life of passivity and failure rather than the joy of accomplishment.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that frustrating your child should be the sole guiding path in your parenting. But in a milieu of love and support, staying out of the way and letting our children fall down, bump their heads and get up and try again can be one of the kindest actions we take.

6 thoughts on “Frustrate Your Child Today”

  1. So true.. it is the frustrations i went through that has made me a better person in life; coping skills is what the younger generation needs to develop…

    Thanks so much..

    1. Leslie, I like your phrase ‘coping skills.’ And a large part of coping is knowing that everything won’t always be smooth and that we can tolerate discomfort. Thanks for chiming in.

  2. Dear Mrs. Lapin,
    I am greatly blessed to have parents that implemented many of those rules in our household growing up. As a child I remember the bin of confiscated clothing, shoes and other items that will be mom’s for a week if left out of it’s designated space. I am now raising my daughter (6 months old) and I am greatly encouraged by reading your column on practical parenting. I realize that my parents raised us with emphasis on the eternal future and not on whatever gets us most comfortably through the next moments. They often took the road less traveled to make sure that we were raised to be respectful and kind to others and to be children of light in this dark world.
    Blessings to you and your sweet family!

    -Blu Luther

    1. How lovely for your daughter that you can pass on good parenting techniques from your own parents. I don’t remember if I said this aloud to my children or only kept it as a mantra for myself, but I used to think, “I am more concerned that they be happy at twenty than at twelve (thirty than thirteen etc.) And the eternal takes it farther than that.
      I very much appreciate your letting me know you enjoy the column. When I meet people they tell me they read it, but I don’t know how many do because there are few comments. If you can share it with others in the same stage of life as you, that would be most helpful. Thanks.

      1. I’ve noticed that there aren’t as many comments on these parenting posts, as on the ones that have a political aspect. I try to comment as much as I can, so you know how important these posts are to me. Perhaps there aren’t as many comments because as busy mothers, we can take time to read them quickly, but don’t have much time to comment.

        1. I appreciate this, Priscilla. I know that this gets fewer eyeballs, partially because we don’t send it out as a mailing and also because it is aimed at only a small proportion of our list. I do know that it is being read and hope that bit by bit people will share with their friends, even those not interested in the political or cultural things our other posts deal with.

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