By Sue Kranz
I’ve never yet met a parent who welcomed frustration. In fact, most of us would rather do whatever it takes to prevent our kids from experiencing frustration. And so we minimize how they feel: “It’s not that bad!” We threaten: “I’ll give you something to cry about!” We distract: “Let’s go for ice cream!”
What we haven’t been taught is the importance of frustration in our children’s development: Frustration helps our kids develop resilience and adaptability.
In his book Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld explains the value of frustration and provides a better, more useful way to deal with it.
He talks about the Wall of Futility – that point at which a person realizes that reality is what it is and can’t be changed: Time has run out. Parents have divorced. The family has moved. Someone got hurt. A loved one died. No is no.
And he defines the parent’s role this way:
Parents must be the agents of frustration and the angels of comfort.
So what does that mean? Be clear that reality is what reality is. Don’t be unkind, just clear.
And then, when the child hit the Wall of Futility, be the angel of comfort. Let them find their tears and grieve the loss of whatever it is. For some, you can wrap your arms around them and just hold them. For others, you may be able to sit with them. For others, you may have to let them go off on their own for a bit, secure in the knowledge that you’ll be there when they resurface.
The benefit to them of being allowed to hit the Wall of Futility is that, once they’ve found their tears and grieved, they’re ready to move on without any coaxing from you.
I had a profound experience with this a couple of years ago. The whole family was visiting for the weekend (there were 17 of us here), and 7 of the 8 children had gone to watch a movie with friends. My daughter’s step-son Aidyn, aged 7, had opted to stay behind and play video games.
I’d been out for a bit, and when I got back, my daughter was beside herself. At some point after all the other children had left, Aidyn decided he wanted to go, too, but couldn’t. From what I understood, she tried to cheer him up, to no avail, and had finally sent him to bed. She was distraught and he was crying.
Just with that, Aidyn walked in the room, face tear stained. I gathered him up wordlessly, carried him to the living room, and sat with him in the rocking chair. I offered nothing. I just held him and rocked him. Our conversation went something like this:
“I really wanted to go to Donnie and Michelle’s!”
“I know you did.”
“I really wanted to watch a movie with the kids!”
“I know you did.”
“I should have gone with them!”
“But nobody would drive me!”
And then, after a pause, “This was my own fault. I could have gone, but I decided to stay here.”
“Aah.” Pause. “So what would you do next time?”
“I’d go with them.”
He heaved a big sigh, stopped crying, and said, “I’m okay now.” And he was. And I was amazed how easy it had been. But what surprised me most was his comment as he was leaving the next day. He said good-bye and gave me a hug, then said, with great sincerity, “And thank you for cheering me up last night.” I said, “You’re welcome!” But what I might have said was, “Oh, honey, you did that yourself!” – because he did.
Want to know more about Choice Theory? My PDF booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries are now available for download on my website at www.sanerparenting.com/downloads/. And if you want to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I always welcome your comments and questions!