Academics can be challenging for many children. Repeated frustrations can lead to feelings of helplessness and self-defeat. “I can’t do this!” becomes a mantra.
When trying to communicate with children, I have often found that words can mean something entirely different to them than they do to me. Children hear adults tell them to stop doing this and stop doing that so often that it takes on a sinister meaning for them. They learn to ignore it completely, or they over-react the minute they hear it.
I have found PAUSE and YET to be magical and helpful words when managing these frustrations. The magic lies primarily in the child’s understanding of the word PAUSE.
Children as young as 2 understand PAUSE these days thanks to the variety of electronics they have available to them. They get that PAUSE doesn’t necessarily mean STOP entirely. They understand that it means to temporarily interrupt the activity, to (hopefully) be resumed within a short period of time.
This word is best put into play before hitting full-on meltdown mode. When you can sense frustration, despair, and/or anger, tell your child to PAUSE the emotion/behavior. (I’ve actually had children take a step away from their position when they PAUSED, to indicate that they have removed themselves from the emotion.) Then help them assess the situation now that they are more calm and able to reason it through with you.
While they are in PAUSE mode, this is where the magic word YET comes in handy. The child needs help understanding that when they say “I can’t do this!”, they need to add a YET to the end of that statement. I often remind them that they couldn’t do xyz at one time, but now they can. And even though they can’t do [insert academic challenge here] YET, they most likely will someday. (I hope it’s obvious that the child may need help figuring out how to tackle the problem and what supports they may need to continue working. The point here is to help them de-escalate the negative spiral that comes with the frustration so that they can honestly assess their abilities and need for assistance.)
Once you have helped them come to an understanding of what is going on, and you’ve (hopefully) de-escalated the negative emotions and instilled some hope, tell them to hit the RESUME button in their mind. More often than not, they do not feel the need to resume the negativity. And if they do, they have definitely lost a great deal of the momentum. And they are ready to tackle the challenge in front of them with a renewed sense of the possibility of success!