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Taming the Lion: How to Handle Frustration

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As spring moves closer and closer to us, I would like to bring up a curriculum topic that sometimes arises more frequently for some reason in the spring, when the weather starts to warm and the layers start to peel off.  That subject is dealing with frustration with young children, helping them to recognize when they are frustrated and facilitating effective and appropriate ways to handle frustration.
This, naturally, is not an easy topic.  Frustration and anger are emotions that are often very challenging to understand and express in easy ways. So different from happiness or even sadness, frustration can so easily lead to a fire in the belly, and part of dealing with it, is sometimes like taming the lion within. We can, and should, start with ourselves as adults, and in doing so, we can ask ourselves the question, how do we deal with our own frustration? How patient are we with ourselves and with others when things do not go our way? Many of you might chuckle when you read this, realizing how patience may not be your forte in life, alas. Yes, we live in a world where more and more we expect things to come easily and fast and when we want it; technology has definitely paved the way for these attributes. Our society is continuously teaching us to live in a world of impatience, yet we ask our children to be patient, a contradictory message indeed.
So how then, do we do it? How do we nurture our children, giving them the tools towards the development of integrity and wisdom, calm and resilience, when we are bombarded with tools and messages that negate these characteristics. It is definitely a challenge, and one that requires us to look at ourselves and the messages, both the verbal and the non verbal, that we give our children.  The challenge also is in our consistency. In order to create this calm and resilience, we must, naturally strive towards our own ability to calm ourselves and find our own patience within, even when things do not go the way we plan. The expression “it is what it is” is a hard one to accept for many of us.
The teachers at Peacock are called upon each and every day to model what Hemingway termed, “grace under pressure”, this ability to be calm in all kinds of waters. Beginning in the infant room, and up to the Blue Room, the teachers, in their language and gestures, are intimately attuned to the frustration a child goes through from  being hungry and wanting a bottle and having to wait until it’s warmed, to wanting a toy and not being able to get one right away or having to choose another, because another child has what one wants,  to wanting ones mother and she is not there, to wanting to be liked in the midst of  the complex social involvement of a 4-5 year old, where exclusion from play can often take center stage. In each stage of development, the adult responds to the child from a place of empathy, infinite patience and understanding, all the while assisting them in the art of acceptance of what is, and with that, the knowledge of how to calmly get ones needs met.  When one wants and one doesn’t get, there is, in our animal nature a move towards disequilibrium, and conversely when one wants and one gets, there is the return to a certain state of homeostasis. So, if this is so, the lesson we must give our children is that this return to equilibrium happens with certain skills that we, as adults are helping children acquire.
What are these skills, then? Let’s look at few examples:  an infant cries and wants his bottle. The loving  and calm caregiver acknowledges his frustration, and holds him, reminding him that his bottle will come soon. His hunger grows and he cries louder. Again, the caregiver acknowledges this need, and reminds by showing him the bottle being warmed. The infant doesn’t understand the warming bottle part, but attends to the calm of the caretaker, the lack of anxiety in her voice, the reassurance that is not contrived. This authentic example of patience is his guide, as he begins to internalize his own calm in the face of having an unmet need. Assuming the bottle arrives before hunger  completely takes over the child, the infant returns to a state of homeostasis that is internal as well as external.
Another example:  a toddler wants a truck, the big red one. Alas, another child is riding on it, and the little blue one is all that is available. The child gets very upset and moves to bite the child on the big red truck. A busy toddler teacher is nearby, yet however busy, she is attentive to these needs at all times. Her voice remains calm and she smiles warmly, seeing how important the big red truck is to this child. The child reads her infinite patience and her understanding of what he needs and her acceptance of him, and he internalizes this as she helps him to wait until the other child is finished. Her messages to him help to dissipate the intense energy that comes from having to have wait for something one doesn’t want to wait for. He feels seen and cared for, he sees the truck is not going anywhere, and he knows she will help him get that truck. When he indeed does get the red truck, he has learned something very important about the art of patience. This art, of course must be repeated over and over and over, and when a child, on his own, can wait for something without lunging at another, the teacher gives him lots of praise.
Another example: a child comes to school, tired and out of sorts. She is impatient with everything, red hot fire coming from within,  and is aggressive towards her peers and is unable to follow directions.  The teachers aren’t reaching her with their normal kindness and compassion, and they see that she needs to be removed from her environment in order to rekindle her state of equilibrium. One of the teachers takes her and a few other children to the upper playground near the woods, where she is given the opportunity to negotiate her world with a simpler and less challenging environment than the regular busy preschool classroom. From this understanding of her needs that the child gets from the teacher, and from this quiet environment, close to nature, the child transforms the fire within into a calm quiet breath, enjoying her peers and regaining her sweetness in her interactions. When she returns to the classroom, she is markedly different. She eats lunch, takes a good long nap, and has a delightful afternoon.
A last example: a child is part of a “foursome”, a group of four girls who are good friends. Maintaining the balance of this foursome, however, is quite a challenge, as there are four distinct personalities, with no defined leader. On a particular day, one of these children, who normally feels included, feels continually left out, and little disappointments escalate, as this child experiences  mounting anger. After awhile, she bursts into tears, yelling at all of them, that she won’t invite any of them to her birthday party. The kind and observant teacher approaches the four girls, and one by one unravels the complicated threads that have created such discordance. Rather than just tell them to “play nicely”, the teacher helps in validating the child’s frustration, and assists in having all the girls sit down and uncover the source of the schism, helping them to re-forge their bond and maintain their balance once again. Through this meeting, she has helped each of the girls, not just the excluded one, in their complex social system, providing tools in the form of language and recognition of feelings, in order to navigate the path through frustration into contentment once again.
 
That deep breath, when all is calm once again, is such a sweet one for one and all…
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So, how was our week at Peacock?
In our Infant Room the babies are happily exploring that world of inner contentment I described earlier. You can see it on their faces: what was initially a certain fearfulness and uncertainty has given way to a grounded sense of self a comfort in being at Peacock, in their precious little baby room where they spend their days.
In our Toddler Room, art again was a highlight. Hand prints continued to be a popular activity as well as some beautiful tissue paper collage art, and some lively shamrock art, all of which is hanging on the wall.  Singing and circle time as well as jubilant dance time delightfully echoed off the walls. The toddlers really do have fun, and the toddler room is such a warm, inviting place to have these wonderful days. By this time of year, their social relationships have blossomed and their is a sweet congeniality among the children. Their language development is soaring and with that, there is an increased ability to communicate and share information, something that was so challenging even just a few months ago.
In our Green Room, the letter O was the focus letter of the week. The children sang songs to show your teeth like sharks (try using that with your dentist!). They talked about and read about animals and plants that live in the sea. They made whales and starfish and octopus, and they made a beautiful ocean scene with paper and finger paint. They made shamrocks and crabs, play dough, and clouds, the latter out of shaving cream and glue, with cotton balls scattered throughout–(why your child came home with a different wardrobe than when you left him/her, and why there was a bag of clothes smelling like they had been to the barber shop!). For walking Wednesday, up Madison we went to the good old library, where we slipped inside in the nick of time to join preschool story time, where the librarian’s theme was wheels.
 
In the Blue Room, the children became Irish for the week, and learned more about leprechauns than I have ever known myself. With guest dancer teacher Heather, they learned Irish dancing steps and they jigged their way through the week! They made shamrock crowns, read books about shamrocks, learned about the origins of the old custom of pinching someone when they are not wearing green, and they all felt relieved that St. Patrick’s Day falls on a no school day so they wouldn’t have to worry about such customs that could become painful. Next week they will make a green lime pie. They made this week paintings out of spaghetti and a mural of a tree that is in full blossom, reflecting the trees that we are seeing in these early stages of spring. From old magazines, they cut out pictures of books that they collected and glued onto a book giving tree. Show and tell this week, Blue’s inaugural week, was a great success. The children loved bringing in things from home and talking about them, entertaining thoughtful questions from their peers. “Why does it have a curly tail?” “Ummm (with great thought)… because it is.”
Yes, it is what it is….
Have great weekends everyone!!
 

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