Munchkin was futzing around, poking a stick into his box of balls. He must have been trying to get something out, or move the balls around, or some other inventive task that only a toddler finds captivating. I was doing my own futzing, dashing about here and there to get ready for our outing to the park. I heard him fuss, the usual whiny groan of exasperation. I waited. Usually he wails and asks for help right away. In the past, I often went to him quickly because his screeching grates on my nerves. Over time, however, I've been gradually extending the time before I offer him help. I'd like to give him a chance to work things out himself. I'd also like to give myself a chance to cope better with his cries without getting frustrated as well.
"I think you can do it," has been my new mantra. I encourage him to repeat the task on his own, at least if it is one that I am certain he is capable of doing. Yet so often, his frustration takes over. His motor skills won't allow him to do whatever it is he is trying to do. This seems to upset him deeply. I know I can too, Mama. But my little hands just can't move that way! I imagine him thinking.
The ball and stick fiasco was one of those times when his frustration just escalated into sharp shrieks and woeful cries. I thought it was a good opportunity to help him with a coping skill that I use when I'm frustrated.
"Hey, will you look at me?" I went up close to Munchkin and made eye contact with him, arresting his focus away from the anger. "Look at me. Good. Now take a deep breath. (I demonstrate) Can you take a deep breath?" He imitated me and took a breath with obvious effort.
"Niiice. OK, now try again. I think you can do it." I gestured toward the stick and balls. "Oh, look, you did it!" A little, bouncy green ball popped out and Munchkin smiled with pride.
This is a scene we've played out over and over again, but not just with the ball and stick. It could be anything Munchkin is trying to do himself. Loud squeal. Mama breathes. Munchkin breathes. Try again. We've been working on it for months. I work on getting past my own frustration as I watch him learn to do the same.
On rough days, he can't quite ever get past the angst, and the poor guy collapses into my arms for solace and relief. I hold him through his anger, letting him cry or scream. I want him to know that whether he succeeds or fails, whether he is angry at himself or the world, I am there for him and I love him. After a few moments, he recovers and we either return to the source of his frustration to conquer it or we find a new task. It's always his choice.
On good days, he remembers to slow down and breathe. He gets past the frustration. So do I.