It’s 6:30am and already, every task is causing a tantrum.
“We have nothing I want to eat!”
“Bud. Its Ok, just pick something else.”
“No! I don’t want anything else.”
My 6-year-old son and I stand in the kitchen. We’re the only ones up. I look at the ceiling wiling my husband to get out of bed above me.
I know my son is hungry. This is typical behavior, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
He’s a huge breakfast eater and usually pulls an Eggo waffle out of the freezer and pops it in the toaster before the rest of us are even downstairs.
We moved all the cereal to the bottom shelf of the pantry just so he can serve himself when he wakes up in the morning.
But today, we’re all out of his favorite cereal, have no more of his Eggo waffles and the world is falling apart.
Eggs… we have eggs!
I grab the carton out of the fridge and hand it to him. His mood lifts.
Lately, his big accomplishment is that he makes scrambled eggs on his own. He slides his chair up to the counter, climbs up and grabs a cup from the cabinet.
“Mom, do you want eggs?”
He cracks an egg against the rim of the cup.
His cry makes me jump.
“What is it?”
“A shell fell in the eggs and I CAN’T GET IT OUT!!!!”
He dissolves into a full, uncontrollable breakdown.
“Babe, we’ll just get it out.”
“NO, I CAN’T DO IT! I… CAN’T…DO.. IT”
What do you do when this happens? Take over? Persuade your child to keep going?
In Dr. Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, “The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity and Resilience in Your Child” there are times to push and times to let go.
They call it Pushin’ and Cushion. This is how to build grit in kids.
Before we get into it, I’ve made this video for you to show your kids on grit. Many times knowing that they can work on their grit and they don’t have it naturally, helps.
I Can’t Let an Eggshell Ruin His Day
We want our kids to come to an obstacle and not let it ruin their day. Rather, to be able to persist and find a solution for it.
I don’t want my son to be taken down by an eggshell.
Kids aren’t naturally resilient. Luckily, there are things we can do as parents to strengthen and expand their resilience.
Siegel and Payne Bryson embrace the concept of a ’No” Brain state and a “Yes” brain state.
In the No brain state, “kids experience fear, dread, and reactivity, intimidated by unforeseen complications and unable to maintain control over their bodies, emotions and decisions.”
My son that morning embraced his No Brain state and cavorted through the grassy fields with it.
Instead, I want to coach him into a “Yes” brain state, that lets him “know he has the skills- or can learn the necessary skills- that will help him face adversity with grit and bounce back from defeats.”
READ: Teach Kids Grit
Encouraging Kids isn’t enough
Kids do need encouragement to persist in hard situations. But simple encouragement isn’t enough.
You need to know when the push and encourage and when to back off and “cushion” the blow.
That can be hard to know the difference and the only way to know is to experiment and feel it out.
With my son, at first, I pushed by reminding him of the skills he had and knew how to do:
“You know how to get eggshells out of eggs. You’ve done it before. We just need a spoon, here you go.”
He sniffled, took a deep breath and with my help got the eggshell.
He poured the eggs into the heated saucepan and started stirring.
But then, the eggs started cooking too fast and he couldn’t stir and scrape fast enough.
“I CAN’T DO IT!!!!”
At that point, I knew his capabilities had reached their limit. If he didn’t get to the eggs fast enough, they would burn in the pan – increasing his frustration because he put so much work into it at this point only to have it squandered.
While some may argue that’s a good life lesson, at 6-years-old, I disagree.
He was so hungry. It was time for me to step in. Time to cushion.
“No problem. I’ll scrape it from the pan and put it in a bowl. You take some deep breaths, OK”
He rubbed his eyes in the way he does when’s he’s fighting off tears and burrowed his head into my hip.
How can you tell whether to push or cushion?
It comes down to associations.
First, take into account what you know about your kid and your kid’s emotional state at the moment.
You know when the tears are going to divulge into a full meltdown where they stop being in control.
Is pushing my child to do this right now going to result in a positive association (Yay! I did it even though it was hard?) or a negative association (That was way too hard. I’m not going to do that again)
I find it’s as simple as assessing your child’s mood.
If they’re calm, look a bit hesitant and are politely refusing, it’s time to push.
If they’re crying and look like they might meltdown and any moment. It’s better to cushion.
You don’t have to do everything for them to cushion.
Sometimes a cushion might be stepping in to do just part of the task or coaxing them to do a smaller version of the task.
I coaxed my son to remove the shell from the eggs and do most of the egg cooking himself. I stepped in at the end to do just a small part.
How to build grit in kids
By pushing to a non-meltdown point you’re encouraging your child to try tasks they feel just beyond their range of capability. When kids accomplish these tasks, they build their mental strength to try harder and harder things each time.
Then, by cushioning them when the task becomes too hard for their current skills, you support them.
Not to say they won’t eventually gain the current skills, they will. Since you were there, next time, they’ll push themselves even farther.
Does your daughter – or son – need a little extra grit coaching? Come enroll in Emotions 911 which teaches them how to identify their emotions, calm down and problem solve conflicts with others. It’s the course I wish I would have had as a kid!