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Teaching to Adapt

  • Posted on May 16, 2011 at 3:51 PM

My kids are less adaptable than many children.  They want things to work the way they’re supposed to work, without any complications, and can’t cope when they don’t.  This can involve schedules, toys, technology, day-to-day activities, or anything else.  I’ve talked about this briefly in previous posts.

While those examples are especially poignant, these frustrations and aggravations are daily occurrences, especially with Alex and Ben.  Willy used to throw some pretty remarkable tantrums when things didn’t work.  He would throw himself on the ground and kick and scream, because he couldn’t deal with the stress of something not working as it ought to do.  Alex is more likely to jump out his frustrations on the trampoline, biting his wrist and screaming.  More frequently now, he’ll lash out at others by trying to bite or pinch them.  Ben is moving away from the aggression, and now he’s most likely to scream and flop himself on the floor.  Well, that doesn’t quite seem enough of an explanation.

It’s more like: Ben sssssccccrrreeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaammmmssss!

Back when Ben and Alex were both littler, their cries were distinguishable.  They’re still distinguishable from each other; however, they’re their cries have become universal.  If I was in another room, when they were little, I could tell by the type of cry whether they were hurt, frustrated, sad, or whatever.  Now, I can’t.  The only thing I can tell is the perceived extremity of the situation.  So whether they are hurt or their video won’t play right, they communicate it with the same cry that used to be reserved for physical pain.  Perhaps I’m misinterpreting their behavior, but it seems to me that their behavior indicates that their frustration is experienced much the same way physical pain.

Life only gets more frustrating, with more things that can and inevitably do go wrong as we get older.  How will my children adapt?  How can I teach my children to adapt?

While I try to lead by example, adapting with grace to the changes and unexpected troubles that come, I know this isn’t enough.  My children don’t learn best by example, by observation.  Besides, I still struggle with this myself and I wonder if the occasional poor example undoes whatever success we manage to achieve.  Even so, they need more than the example.  Yet, when the opportunity arises, they are often too lost in the frustration to learn how to deal with it.  Most of the time I cannot “bring them down” or stabilize their emotional energies without fixing the problem, and once I’ve fixed the problem they want to continue with what they “should have been doing” instead of trying to learn how I fixed the problem.

Has anyone out there succeeded in teaching their children to adapt?  How did you do it?  For Willy, he mostly “grew out of it” by learning in his own miraculous way to stay calm.  I’m not yet convinced it’s been our strategies and tools that have made this possible.  I suspect that Willy has accomplished a great deal of this on his own, beneath the surface of our interventions.  After all, we’ve tried much the same strategies for Alex and Ben with very different results.  Is there a strategy that works?  Or, do I just need to help my little ones cope as best I can until they have their own miracles?