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When our 6-year-old daughter is trying something new and hard (homework, reading a hard word, video games, etc.) she can get into a cycle of frustration and anger that ends with her crying in a ball on the floor.

It starts with her making a mistake, and me correcting it. Normally she's successfully pushed through several hard points already or is tired going in. I've tried variations on "stop", "no", "wait", "hang on" and "just a second", but they all have the same result: a sharp burst of vocal frustration from her, followed by me realising where this is heading and trying to defuse it.

Along the way she may try and take the work somewhere I can't see, or try and complete it quickly even though it's incorrect. She'll complain about not understanding something, but not allow me to explain anything.

Things I've tried to stop the spiral:

  • Suggesting taking a break
  • Pointing out that it's easy to rub it out and try again
  • Walking her through the problem from the start
  • Shouting back (?!)
  • Pointing out this always ends with her being upset and we should try to avoid that
  • Using a calming tone of voice
  • Suggesting I do it for her and she copies!
  • Noticing when she's tired and prone to frustration and trying to stop the exercise early ("I can do it!") (maybe I can try more forcefully to do this? one time it ended with a similar tantrum)

It ends with her in full-blown tears and one of us leaving the room. It can take 30 minutes for her to calm down at which point she can normally do it.

Has anyone got any more tactics I could try?

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    I find 'can i try' works when helping young children. Then you work on a solution together. – Terry Mar 13 '17 at 10:31
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    One that my parents used to help me with my homework is to give an obviously wrong answer. That somehow triggered me into finding the correct answer immediately. It helped my problem solving ability and trained me to not always believe what people said... – ratchet freak Mar 13 '17 at 11:54
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    So I don't yet have a 6yr old, so take my advice with a grain of salt, but I would look at martial arts. She doesn't need to take the martial arts, but what you describe is the sort of channeling of energy into self discipline that martial arts are famous for. I could see looking into how martial arts teachers manage their classes of 1st and 2nd graders, and seeing if any of those techniques might apply well to your child. They just seem to be a decent place to look for such solutions. – Cort Ammon Mar 13 '17 at 18:15
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    Not wanting to put as an answer as this is an aside to one - but make sure she knows that you also make mistakes and can see your reaction to getting things wrong (even if you have to slightly manufacture something) - even better if it can make her laugh so mistakes start moving away from being an issue (too much salt in cooking maybe?). – Rycochet Mar 15 '17 at 15:53
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    upvote them </pun> – Félix Gagnon-Grenier Mar 16 '17 at 15:31

11 Answers 11

80

It starts with her making a mistake, and me correcting it.

So don't correct her. Especially her schoolwork should be hers and hers alone. A teacher does not expect 100% correct work, they want to see how well a student has understood the current topic. Leave the corrections to the teacher. And she may even go back to school without complete homework (but trying is a must), tell the teacher that she didn't understand or couldn't solve some of it and get another explanation.

Failure is a part of life. Accepting one's own limitations and dealing with failures or mistakes can be hard, but every child must learn it at some point. And yes, this may mean tantrums and tears, but the less you try to solve it, the better. You can be a sounding board if she needs to vent or someone to console her if that's what she needs, but don't try to solve her problem - unless she explicitly asks for help. Taking her work to another place is for me a sign that she wants to be left alone and work through it on her own. Give her the freedom to take responsibility - think how much more proud she'll be if she solved it alone and without you correcting and improving her work.

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    Thank you. Not always nice to hear "you're doing it wrong by wanting to help" but it's good advice. – tenpn Mar 12 '17 at 18:50
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    @tenpn It's not wrong to want to help. It can be wrong to help in the way that instinct first suggests, and it's possible to have the wrong (possibly subconscious) objective for help. Are you trying to help her learn or are you trying to help her get good grades? You can run into a lot of problems confusing those two goals. – Jeutnarg Mar 13 '17 at 23:13
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    "Failure is a part of life. Accepting one's own limitations and dealing with failures or mistakes can be hard, but every child must learn it at some point." I'm 26 and still haven't mastered this. – Doddy Mar 14 '17 at 10:39
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    @Vality Strongly disagree. You won't end up with an awful dead-end job because you got some homework problems wrong when you were six years old. However, if you get into the habit of having correct answers handed to you instead of learning the material, you will be helpless all your life. – amalloy Mar 15 '17 at 8:03
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    > "you're doing it wrong by wanting to help" holy crap no! That's not the advice at all, obviously you should help your child when they struggle unnecessarily. The advice is that you're helping wrong. She could figure out the homework herself with the tools, I mean she figured out your buttons just fine... but there's no button labeled "Give me better tools" for her to press, you didn't give her that tool..... -_- Give her that tool. Teach her about science and problem solving, how to learn and think. Let her figure out her own homework. – MickLH Mar 15 '17 at 22:06
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Most of the answers (as well as your question) here make it sound as if your daugther was unable or unwilling to accept her own mistakes.

But when I read these sentences

It starts with her making a mistake, and me correcting it. [...] I've tried variations on "stop", "no", "wait", "hang on" and "just a second" but they all have the same result

it sounds as if you are sitting right next to her watching over her shoulder and immediately correting whatever error she makes immediately (why else would you need phrases like "stop" or "hang on"?).

Let me tell you: this is the perfect way to create frustration.

Having someone point out every flaw within seconds of it occurring and without any chance to recognize and correct the error yourself is just downright demoralizing. Over longer periods of time it sucks out your self-esteem and gives you a feeling of incapability and helplessness (especially if the mistake you made is a small one which you just know you would have recognized yourself if given the chance).

This way everything, even fun things like videogames, can becom a frustrating nightmare if someone like a parent or older sibling points out what you are doing wrong all the time.

So step back a little.

When she is doing her homework do not sit next to her but be in the room next door.

Make sure she knows that whenever she needs help she can come to you and ask, but do not interfere until she herself thinks its done.

Of course you can still check her work and point out all the flaws at once and ask her to correct them (like "Your solutions on excercise 1, 5 and 7 are wrong. Do you think you can correct them yourself?")

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    Upvoted for pointing out how frustrating it is to have someone providing instantaneous feedback on everything you do. This STILL irritates me, and I'm in my 50s. – barbecue Mar 13 '17 at 22:59
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    This post gave me bad flashbacks of my initial driving experience. My mom couldn't teach me how to drive for that very reason, but I drove just fine with a private instructor and other family members. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 14 '17 at 13:33
  • This post is great advice, but answers a much deeper problem than the OP was ready to ask about. Even if you correct this one behavior in someone, they still are the person who generates behaviors like this without even realizing the effects on others. :( – MickLH Mar 15 '17 at 22:08
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    @barbecue It irritates me the more the older I get... – yo' Mar 16 '17 at 12:25
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    +1, and you gave me some really bad flashbacks. Especially "Suggesting I do it for her and she copies!" - it's like parent is saying "you are worthless, you will never be able to do that". At least that's how I see it. If it's as bad as it sounds, I would curl up and start shouting, too. And I'm over 30. – Mołot Mar 17 '17 at 8:18
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I agree with @Stephie's excellent answer. I would like to expand on one point (failure).

Anyone got any more tactics I could try?

Yes. Try to instill in her the idea that success is not the most important outcome of her work. That's part of teaching resilience.

One incomplete definition of resilience is the ability to work through fear and stress without internalizing a negative message. It's the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties due to a particular mindset about priorities, for example, looking at failure as an opportunity instead of as a negative statement about abilities.

Trying things she's afraid of, or keeping at it (to a point) when she is tired, or learning from her mistakes: these are the kinds of things that take courage and build good character. Resilience will serve her much better in life than good grades will. Resilience in schoolwork translates to every stressful aspect of life.

Below is a good starting point for teaching resilience at home. Though it's meant for educators, parents are the child's ultimate educator.

Resources on Developing Resilience, Grit, and Growth Mindset

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    Yes teaching resilience is the most important result. Learning to deal with the pain of negative feedback but to still go on whether the source is from learning or other activities or other painful/confusing communication coming your way. – mathreadler Mar 12 '17 at 21:03
  • 100% this. Praise effort over outcome and (try to) avoid using generic "good girl / boy" - substitute that with specific praise for the behaviour you saw e.g. "you're excellent at finding the right piece for your jigsaw puzzle!" – Ashby Mar 14 '17 at 0:16
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    @Ashby is entirely right - science shows that saying, "You're so smart" is the worst kind of praise. "You must have worked hard at that" is far better for helping children (and probably adults) improve. – Wayne Werner Mar 16 '17 at 12:47
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Stephie's point is valid - and it makes me wonder if she reacts the same way at school when she is not perfect. If it is only an at home problem, then I think her advice is bang on. That doesn't mean you cannot help.

If she is having problems everywhere, perhaps she feels like making a mistake is a bad thing. So many children feel this way. We can try to build them up and gain confidence.

  • When you or your partner makes a mistake -- point it out. "Opps! I dropped the papers all over the floor! It's no big deal but will you help me clean them up?" "I made a mistake. Today is Sunday, not Saturday. Silly me! Oh well!"
  • Show her that she is important to you no matter what. Ask her opinion -- especially about things that you cannot correct. Look through a nature book and ask which images she likes best, or what colour she likes, and then praise her for those ideas.

  • Ask her how to solve a problem -- TV is great for this. Stop her show and help brainstorm what the characters will do to fix their problem.

  • Deep pressure -- like a good strong hug, can do wonders. Often when a child is overwhelmed emotionally -- for whatever reason -- if you time out with them and cuddle and not talk at all, this will be reassuring. Time out is time off. You aren't mad and if you are -- don't try this until you are calm and happy.
  • Choices -- allow her to make choices and to live with the consequences. If you ask if she wants a sweater and she says no but decides she is cold -- let her solve the problem. Then you can praise her for solving her own problem.
  • Make sure she is not being bullied at school or daycare. This can make children emotional even when everything seems fine.
9

I'll answer this by asking "How long is a piece of string?".

And it really comes down to individual approaches and techniques that work for some and not for others.

I am going to answer this as a parent, because I too have a 7yo boy that shouts when he can't do something, yet I tell him "YOU CAN"! That makes it worse by the way. He turns my offer of "encouragement" into an argument and it's not about the task anymore, it's about who wins the argument.

Anyway, that was in the old days (a few months back actually). I don't let us argue. I simply don't go beyond my own personal frustration.

I used to shout and demand he try again and again until he got it right. Oh boy was that stupid on so many levels!

Ok here is what I do. Give it a try...

[1] Child sitting at the table trying to write some words or doing some homework

[2] You're busy doing the cooking

[3] Child starts making grunting sounds and murmering some swear words now and then

[4] Your ears prick up but you don't react - yet

[5] Child yells - STUFF THIS I CAN"T DO IT!

[6] You look at him, smile and listen. Let him get his frustration and anger out. Let the steam dissipitate

[7] Now it's your turn. Approach and offer to help. If rejected, then go back to what you're doing. DO NOT INSIST ON HELPING. Even if you know he's making mistakes - let him!

[8] If child accepts help, sit down next to them. DO NOT STAND NEXT TO THEM. That adds to possible anxieties.

[9] Offer - ok, how can I help. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO ANYTHING. DO NOT REACH OVER THEIR WORK OR IN FRONT OF THEIR EYES.

[10] Child starts another tantrum because you're not doing it all! or something like that. If so Repeat step 6

[11] Again ask - may I look? may I try? MAY I... very important the word MAY

[12] Offer him a drink, treat, something to distract them and bring them down to calmness.

[13] Now take their problem seriously and suggest in snippetts a way to go forward, like ".. hey I have an idea... stuff these small letters, lets draw one in any colour you want and make it big ... like the whole sheet even...".

MAKE IT FUN!

and so on.

7

The question is How to calm a frustrated 6yo.

The majority of the answers here seem to be dealing with how to avoid the 6yo from getting upset in the first place. While there's a lot of good advice in them, they seem to be ignoring a large portion of this question.

We use a technique introduced by our son's school when he was 4. He uses it a lot less often now (he's 6), but it still does come in handy.

The school refers to it as Turtle Time or the Turtle Technique:

  1. Recognize that you feel angry.

  2. Think “Stop” to yourself.

  3. Go into your “shell”. Take three deep breaths and think calming thoughts, such as: “I can calm down,” “I am OK”, “I can think of solutions to my problem,” “I am good at solving problems.” Children can also think about relaxing your body one body part at a time.

  4. Come out of your shell when calm and ready to think of solutions to the problem.

When they introduced it, the school had an area for step 3, but they also encouraged use of a specific body posture: back turned away from whatever upset you, with arms tightly hugging yourself. This makes it immediately obvious from body language when the child is upset.

We always follow up with our own step 5, which is "now that you're calmer, tell us why you are upset".

This gives the child control over the situation, allowing them to clearly and effectively communicate that they're upset, while giving them as much time as they feel they need to get their emotions in control, with the added benefit of establishing that they will have an opportunity to explain exactly why they're upset, once they're ready to do so.

A key part of this process is that you have to listen to what they say. We follow up by repeating what it is that my son is upset about, and then talking with them about how we can avoid that in the future.

  • Yes, but how do you get the child to actually do this Turtle Technique? If they're that open to try something, then that implies the child is aware of their behaviour. In most cases, I dare say, that is not the case. – Fandango68 Mar 19 '17 at 23:55
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    @Fernando68 The way you get the child to actually do this is the same way as for most things: practice and consistent reinforcement. You don't teach them the Turtle Technique while they're upset. You teach them about it at a time when they're calm, and remind them about it whenever they get upset, until they start to use it on their own. – user420 Mar 20 '17 at 0:08
5

Just... let her be. Let her figure it out on her own how to deal with it. The last you wish to do is to reinforce/reward the negative behavior.
You giving her attention at a negative spike will turn this into behavior that is rewarded by attention from a loved one. This will trigger more negative behavior to get more attention.

I had a 4 year old that discovered donkey kong on the N64 a few years back. He loved it but found it very hard. Regularly there would be screams of frustration, a controller being thrown on the ground, or sobbing on the floor.

Just, let it play out. Once the frustration is vented they'll pick off on their own where they stopped to vent, determined to get it.
At that point, where the venting is done and they are 'normal' again you can say you can do it. I believe in you. You'll learn it. At no point you wish to do this when they are frustrated because it will only amplify the frustration and reward the negative behavior.

You want to reward the picking up again, getting back on the horse. Not in anyway acknowledging the venting of frustration.

He now plays donkey kong better than I did, and he taught it himself, with minimal help from me(okay, I beat a few bosses, but the actual game play he did himself, solving all the puzzles(even though he can't read english))

A kid that young needs to learn how to deal with his own emotions. How to recognize them, how to deal with them, how to continue afterwards.
If you stop them too soon, they will never come to learn their "limits" and fail to recognize situations later because they are unfamiliar with the full extent of the emotions. Better they "rage" when young, and be mindful of themselves when older, than that they rage when teenager/adult without self taught limits.

Do in short: do not defuse. Offer her a punching bag instead. let her scream a bit. it's healthy. it will teach other lessons than what she was doing.

Then, when calm again, do the steps you listed.

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    When I learned playing Need for Speed, you could hear me screaming and cursing for hours because the cops would bust me or I would crash the car right before winning the race. And I'm in my late thirties. I don't think the situation is so different with a kid who keeps getting corrected for homework mistakes. – Magicsowon Mar 13 '17 at 17:32
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Well, since I could not comment, I will try my best to put a well-formatted answer, so bear with me. It might not get you the exact solution or how you should behave specifically, but it can be helpful in the long run!

Eric Berne theorized on Transactional Analysis which at its simplest level, is the method for studying interactions between individuals. In addition to the analysis of the interactions between individuals, Transactional Analysis also involves the identification of the ego states behind each and every transaction. Berne ultimately defined the three ego states as: Parent, Adult, and Child. For a high level of understanding you would better to refer to this book. On the other hand however, not all transactions between humans are healthy or normal. In those cases, the transaction is classified as a crossed transaction.

So what you need to do is to constantly balance the situations where you and your 6-year old are getting out of it and I am totally agree with @Stephie's quick answer in your case.

I have also another suggestion for you to read on! It would be great, if you could afford to have a look into Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish book [How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk] to get a grip on almost every aspect of this journey called raising a kid!

Good Luck :)

2

It is better to let her get the cognition herself, so she will not be frustrated but have a feeling of success. You could give her some clues by asking something concerning the issue, e.g.

"Could it be better to write this word with two... ?"

If inevitable, explain the errors with positive formulations, e.g. "It would have been better if...". This sounds much better than "You've done wrong at..."

1

This may (or may not) add perspective without necessarily adding more knowledge to what has been mentioned already above:

I think of children as empty canvases with a clear purpose in their formative years of life to go around gathering ink. It is not until they mature and grow that they start using the ink they gathered throughout their journey, painting their canvases with warm colors of success, cold ones of failure and many other hues of various experiences.

Inadvertently as a parent, you'll be guilty of having not only given them ink, but also painted on their canvas. This is not a bad thing, but it's probably best to be careful about what you paint. Be it religion, education, career choices, hobbies and any other easily impressionable subject - in conclusion your responsibility towards your child is to give them the tools to survive independently when you'll no longer be around. The earlier they become independent the better, even if you're still there for them.

Remember we are not taught by others - we teach ourselves. Education aims to give us tools and motivation to further explore a subject. This is why we're given homework at the end of a class rather than ending with facts filling up our heads in class till they burst and then assume we soaked in everything.

If you want your children to succeed at whatever subject they're failing at, find ways to make them truly love the subject. They'll teach themselves in a matter of weeks or months and astonish you at their sudden progress. Before you know it you'll find yourself buying books for them on the subject which you no longer understand and your child skims through it as though all the stated facts are obvious.

If they never find passion in that subject, it isn't for them. No point torturing them and wasting their time on a subject they'll struggle all through their early years to achieve a low passing grade, and never again use it for the rest of their lives.

Help guide her, keep her ink clean, stop her canvas from getting smudged and show her the different techniques of going on about painting herself a bright and vivid painting!

Alternatively you could tie her up to a chair and do her homework as you repeatedly call her a li'l sh*t, nailing full marks after full marks. That'll show 'em! :D (just joking of course)

-8

Try putting them in a nappy. Kids want to be grown up, like their friends and family. If you put them in a nappy every time they get frustrated and tell them they are behaving like a baby so you are going to treat them like a baby, very quickly they associate frustration with being babyish and in order to get away from babyishness they will make every effort to avoid becoming frustrated.

This is not a method of discipline, but moreover it is a method of behavior-modification using negative reinforcement. If you give the child a candy or chocolate while they are calm they will also associate being calm with pleasure as they enjoy the taste of the candy. This will encourage calm behaviour as well.

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    For a 6yo? That's a senseless punishment and not a serious help. – Stephie Mar 12 '17 at 19:51
  • it is also senseless to allow a child to get that frustrated in the first place. – Neo One Mar 12 '17 at 19:53
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    I cannot agree with your answer Neo, because food reinforcers are always a bad idea (food as a reinforcer can lead to eating to feel better or for self- punishment/ control issues). The nappy idea is just not healthy. – WRX Mar 12 '17 at 19:56
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    A bit worried about your children tbh. – jwg Mar 13 '17 at 10:48
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    @jwg In fairness to Neo, I am betting s/he is not a parent. We do not have to be parents to post. – WRX Mar 13 '17 at 13:30

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