The real world contains tons of frustrations that every adult, even hugely successful adults, must deal with every day. Healthy adults have learned how to tolerate frustration and persevere in spite of it. This is a necessary quality for adults that children must learn when they are young.
How do we introduce our kids to a frustration that is good for them? Well, to begin with, many parents today give their children much more than they can ever expect to get as adults. Adults rarely achieve or receive even half of the items they wish for (the house of their dreams, the super-expensive car, the ideal job, the perfect spouse, unending vacations, wildly successful sex, the flawless body, etc.). Yet many parents believe they should give their children everything they wish. Oftentimes when a child wants a toy or gadget, the parents believe they are letting their child down if they don't give it to him promptly. As a result, the child grows up thinking if she wants something, she should get it. This pattern of thinking is a recipe for an unhappy frustrated adult.
Getting too much for too little teaches a child values that will handicap her in the real world. To succeed as an adult, our toddlers and preschoolers must understand that if they want something badly enough, they must be willing to work hard for it. Parents must insist that their children see their obligations (their chores, their committed interests) through to the end. For example, imagine that your preschooler has begged you for a pet and you are amenable to this idea. You should discuss fully before obtaining the pet what you view her role to be in the pet's maintenance (while keeping in mind realistic age appropriate expecta tions). If she commits to fulfilling a certain role toward the pet's maintenance, you must hold her accountable. If she doesn't meet her obligation, you must employ the goods-for-goodies method. To let her off the hook is to give her false expectations about the real world. It is essential for parents to teach that there is a link between effort and reward. If the lesson frustrates your child, remember that she is also learning important things.
Experiencing frustration and learning how to handle it allows the child to learn that meaningful feelings of happiness can come from within themselves, not from external material items. True happiness comes from a secure and confident belief in our own ability to affect others in a positive way. True happiness does not come from how many things we have. The more external things a child gets, particularly when the child gets them with very little of his own effort, the more misdirected the child becomes in learning about what truly brings happiness and contentment to a person. Show me a child who gets many things for very little of his own effort, and I'll show you an unhappy child who doesn't take good care of those things. Why should he? He has gotten used to a world where things just keep coming to him regardless of how little energy he expends.
Conflict is the normal state of affairs for adults (should I major in this or that; shall I move here or there; shall I marry or focus on my career; should we have one child or more, etc.). Every day of our adult lives, we must choose one course of action while forgoing other attractive choices. Asking your child to choose between two competing activities, both of which she desires, allows her to learn that a normal human often "cannot have their cake and eat it too." For example, you are doing an excellent job of teaching her Principle #3 when you say something like, "Honey, today we have time to let your friend come over and play or Daddy can take you to the zoo." When the inevitable begging begins about wanting to do both, you can explain the normal frustrations inherent in life in ways she can understand. For example, you might say, "I understand how disappointing it is when you have to choose between two things you really want. But in life we have to make lots of choices—we can't do all the fun things there are to do." Kids need to experience making a choice and adjusting to the disappointment of not having the other choice. Learning they cannot have all they want makes them more prepared for the realities of the real world.
Parents show an enormous love for their child when they allow him to make a mistake and experience real life consequences. Oftentimes the most loving thing you can do is to stand quietly by and let your toddler or preschooler discover natural consequences on his own. Kids allowed to make their own mistakes (that subsequently cause them some level of unhappiness) are kids who will wind up making far fewer mistakes as they grow older. For example, your child wants to tie a balloon to his own wrist and won't tolerate your help. You stand by patiently as he valiantly and perhaps stubbornly tries to tie the string. When his treasured balloon flies off into the atmosphere, he learns about real world consequences. When this happens, offer him comfort and an accurate description of what happened and how he is feeling ("Yes, honey, I tried to help you tie that but you wanted to do it by yourself. Balloons not properly tied often blow away. You wanted that balloon and it's sad that you don't have it now."). Do not buy him another balloon. He needs to experience the emotions that result from his actions.
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