Watching your child struggle and become frustrated isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable for parents, sometimes even agonizing. So, what can you do to empower your child to keep trying—without doing all the work yourself?
1. Listen and Empathize
Sometimes children are not expecting us to help and all they need is a listening ear. Practice listening when your child vents to you about a problem. If needed, take deep breaths as you fight the urge to jump in with solutions.
Next time your child comes to you with a problem, try one of the following responses.
Provide choices, such as, “Would you like to keep trying, take a break, or ask for help?”
Validate your child’s feelings: “You seem frustrated. I understand why you feel that way.”
Ask your child open-ended questions such as, “How do you think you can solve this?” or, “What solutions have you tried? What else could you try?” Brainstorm together, but let your child take the lead. Don’t push an agenda.
If your child is truly stuck, you can try prompting with questions like, “What do you think would happen if you tried ________?”
You can also ask, “What do you need from me?” This tells your child that you are there for them in a supporting role, but still gives them ownership and agency..
2. Model the Attitude You Want to See
When you encounter challenges yourself, model the same language and attitude you’d like to see from your child.
Use phrases like, “This is hard. I need a break,” or, “This is hard. I’m going to keep trying.” You may also say, “This is hard. Will you help me?”
Ask your child to help you brainstorm solutions to your problem or challenge.
Avoid expressing negative opinions of yourself or making comments like, “I can’t do this.” Take deep breaths and tell yourself, “I can handle this,” if you’re losing your composure.
Focus on the positive. Was a lesson learned? Did you improve? Did you overcome the struggle — and how great did it feel?
These strategies teach children to accept that sometimes things are hard, and sometimes we get frustrated, and that’s OK.
It’s not about being perfect or figuring something out the first time. In fact, it’s even more of an accomplishment to stick with it, try different strategies, and eventually make progress.
3. Build Up Confidence with Age-Appropriate Tasks
As early as possible, boost your child’s feelings of confidence and capability by allowing him to do age-appropriate tasks on his own.
This may include getting dressed, picking up toys, preparing foods like cereal or toast, making the bed, or other chores, depending on your child’s age.
Yes, it’s often faster for us to do these tasks ourselves. But being patient and letting your child master these skills independently shows them that they can do hard things.
4. Remind Them of Past Struggles and Accomplishments
Remember: The more children struggle their way to progress or success, the more willing they will be to stick with challenges in the future. It’s helpful to remind them of previous obstacles they’ve overcome and problems they’ve solved.
Remind your child of tasks that were once difficult and became easier with time. When has your child struggled, but eventually triumphed or improved?
What are your child’s strengths? How did he grow these strengths?
You can also talk to your child about times you have struggled and been rewarded in the end. Remind your child that everyone struggles. It is natural, normal, and even good! With struggle comes growth.
5. Teach Problem-Solving Skills
In addition to brainstorming and asking your child open-ended questions, you can directly teach problem-solving skills. Teach a simple process like the following:
Step 1: What am I feeling? Help your child label how he feels about the situation. Understanding feelings diffuses their charge, allowing your child to step back and focus on the bigger picture.
Step 2: What’s the problem? Ask your child to describe the problem. In most cases, ensure that your child is taking responsibility for his role, rather than pointing fingers.
Step 3: What are the solutions? Brainstorm potential solutions. They don’t have to be “good” ideas; you will narrow it down later.
Step 4: What would happen if…? Discuss what might happen if your child tried each solution. Roleplaying is also appropriate at this step. Is the solution safe? Is it fair? How will others feel?
Step 5: What will I try? Have your child choose one solution to try. If it doesn’t work, discuss WHY and choose another. Encourage your child to keep trying until the problem is solved.