[Originally posted at Just the Facts, Baby]
My husband and I took our five-year old skating the other day and what a pleasure it was. She listened to our instructions, put them into action and stuck to it. She fell and got up, fell and got up again. She tried and tried until she was skating on her own. It made for a happy outing and a wonderful achievement for her.
This was not how it went years ago when we first took our older son skating. He is sixteen now, happy and successful at almost everything he tries but, back when he was five, this kind of outing would have been a nightmare. Two minutes on the ice and he would have been crying and demanding to go home. It was the same with bike riding, basketball or anything new that he tried. As parents, we would fluctuate between being angry and very sad for him. He was a perfectionist and the second he couldn’t do something right, he quit in a fury.
Anxious children and often gifted kids seem to have this trait. It’s as if they have it all figured out and feel they should be able to easily master it. Then, as soon as they realize they can’t, they are devastated and refuse to try further.
These same kids often have difficulty losing and will quit games with peers as soon as things don’t go their way. It is very hard to know how to deal with this and as a parent you either find yourself getting incredibly angry or just giving in because the fight is simply too much. It can also be embarrassing when your child is the one storming off the soccer field or lying in the middle of the ice rink.
Here’s what to do:
• Stay Neutral. This is very hard, but threatening and getting angry do not work with a child like this. Neither do bribes.
• Empathize. This is a hard one, but try to empathize with their frustration and then give them some space. Sometimes staying there and trying to talk them into it only fuels the episode. Go on with what you’re doing and don’t stop the activity, check in from time to time to see if he is ready to try again and repeat if not.
• Don’t lecture. If they completely refuse and will not try, don’t go on and on about it. Make a statement about how hard it must be when their frustration gets in the way of their fun and how much you would like to see them push through these feelings. Then try to walk away.
• Don’t have a parade. If they do decide to try again, don’t go overboard saying “Oh that’s so great, look he’s back!” This will embarrass your child and raise the stakes, often making him quit again. Calmly, and in a neutral way, welcome him back, but don’t make a big deal about it.
• Watch your agenda. Be certain that it is not your need for them to be interested in, or good at, this activity that is driving the issue. If your child senses this is more about you, it can add to his anxiety and fuel the desire to quit.
• Don’t compare. Try not to compare your child to siblings who have mastered the same activity. This can lead to shame and further shut down.
• Acknowledge the effort, not the outcome. Focusing too much on achievement and end results can leave kids stressed and afraid they won’t be able to do it again. Praise even the smallest attempt at the activity.
• Talk about their brain. When they want to quit because they can’t master a skill fast enough, tell them that it takes time for their muscles to learn how to do it. The brain knows how but it takes time to get that information to the muscles. This can really help kids who give up too quickly