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Building a Pattern of Success

To gain confidence, kids need to learn to cope with frustration.

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A child's mixed emotions are the product of his young mind coming to grips with the complexities of his expanding world. Positive and negative emotions are central to his growth. Like all of us, an 18- to 36-month-old needs to learn to express his positive emotions and to manage his negative ones. Key to that management is the ability to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish what he wants.

Children need to learn to succeed and to be willing to try new things and tackle new challenges if they are to feel competent. Children who experience too much frustration and failure inevitably begin to try less and less. The emotional discomfort is too hard, and their best tactic becomes avoidance.

But an essential part of learning to succeed is coping with frustration and sticking with the project until it works. This is another area where parents can give their kids a wonderful leg up. Once again, the key is to follow the child's emotional cues.

In teaching your child to succeed, you want to manage frustration, not eliminate it. It's fine for your child to have to work at solving a puzzle or putting on her boots. It may take her awhile, and your patience is essential. Keep letting her work the problem until you see signs that frustration is beginning to overwhelm the process. (Those emotional cues, again.) If this happens, give her a helping hand, but let her finish on her own.

She needs to feel that burst of pleasure that comes with a win. This is how she commits her new discovery to memory. It's also how she learns that effort + success = pleasure. Your praise of her accomplishment makes that pleasure even greater, and the whole process gets amplified.

It's important to remember that children need to earn their success for it to feel the way it should. It's great for you to grab that last puzzle piece that scooted under the sofa and place it where your child can see it. But if you take the piece and finish the puzzle, you just ruined his project! For a success to count, it needs to be your child's success, not yours. And yes, don't forget to praise his success.

From Me, Myself and I: How Children Build Their Sense of Self — 18 to 36 Months by Kyle D. Pruett, M.D. Available wherever books are sold. Copyright © 1999 by Goddard Press, Inc.

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