Setting a limit allows my son to work through frustrations
author By Emilie Leeks,

My son (7 years) was in our shed, looking for some skittles, which were somewhere in amongst a lot of other garden toys, in a big box. He was sounding extremely irritated at not being able to find them quickly and easily, and was shouting out from the shed, quite crossly 'Help! Can somebody help me?!'. I went over and asked what he needed - and he told me that he was looking for the skittles and couldn't find them. He sounded very stressed, and he tends to very quickly move to quite extreme anger when he's frustrated with something, rather than work through it, so I really want to support him in this area. I decided to set a limit, so I said calmly 'I think you can find them in there'. He said 'I can't! I can't!' and I think he would have loved me to just head on in there and fish them out for him, which I'm sure I could have done easily enough.

I hate seeing my kids get frustrated about things, and I know that I have been guilty in the past of jumping in too quickly to help them with things that are bugging them. I am now really trying to wait until I'm asked, but even then, I'm then also sitting with my discomfort when they get frustrated, and trying to help them work through the issue in spite of the difficulty they are facing - rather than just doing it for them. Solving it for them has always felt quicker and easier, and means I can avoid all those uncomfortable feelings too! I have been working in some of my Listening Partnerships on recognising when I might want to set limits, and also where those difficult feelings come from for me.

Anyway, I said I believed he could do it, and said a few things about how 'yeah, it's really hard when the box is so full - I bet they're right at the bottom!' to guide his thinking a bit (he has quite rigid thinking, and problem solving is an area he can find challenging, so sometimes we have to scaffold a bit more than you would with other children his age - especially when the situation becomes emotionally charged for him). I also said I didn't mind if he needed to take lots of toys out in order to find them - 'we can always put them back afterwards', as I felt he might have been worried about the idea of making a mess. I said I would be around if he needed me, and felt it was a good time to step away a bit.

I had to go back one more time as he was getting stressed again - he was starting to shout ('Help - HELP!! They're not there - they're not THERE!!!!!!') and panic, and he finds it really challenging to come down from this point once he gets there. I focused on staying calm myself, and really tried to let him feel heard - I don't have to say too much as this can aggravate him more, so I came close, just said 'I'm here', and waited. Again I had to gently hold my limit that I wasn't going to help him (I didn't need to phrase it like that - I continued with 'I believe you can do it'), and sure enough he found all the skittles himself - and remembered to put all the other toys back afterwards too! It was fantastic to see him work through something that was challenging and frustrating to him, and to succeed in the end. I was quite proud of myself as well, for not jumping in and solving the problem for him!

A word or two about Journeys in Parenting; a responsive parenting community

Emilie is a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor, and was a paediatric speech and language therapist in her former life. She provides support and coaching for parents via the Journeys in Parenting community. Emilie lives in Berkshire in the UK with her husband and 3 children.

Journeys in Parenting is a community group for parents, carers and parents-to-be, who want to find out more about parenting in a responsive and peaceful way. The community offers information, advice and emotional support for this hard work we do as parents. The vision of the group is to be a safe space, where parents are supported in guiding their families in ways which: are respectful to children; meet the parents' needs; and lead to a more peaceful planet for all.

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