When he Fails: A little lesson with blocks

‘Mummy! I CAN’T DO IT!’ Followed by a scream of frustration and then usually a block is thrown across the room.

Jack is so focussed on blocks at the moment. He will sit in the block area for seemingly ages building. Usually this level of concentration is reserved for his drum kit. He is completely invested in building these houses, they must be just how he wants them, and only he can build them.

But blocks are blocks. They are different shapes, different sizes, they don’t all fit together simply, they fall down. And that is where the problem lays.

teaching children to handle failureJack has strong emotions, he becomes frustrated when things don’t go as he planned, even seemingly small things. Sometimes it is difficult for me to be empathetic towards him as it seems that what has upset him is so small and easily fixed with a little bit of patience.

But I know that even though the fact that the round block won’t stay on top of the rectangular one seems small to me, it is not small to Jack. It is frustrating and upsetting. It is important to him to have that block on there, it’s part of his plan.

So what do we do? I can’t have him throwing blocks across the room, and I don’t want him to feel helpless when something isn’t working. I want him to know that mistakes happen, they should happen, they need to happen, that’s how we learn and create and discover new things and new ways of working. The blocks will fall, many times, but when they fall you will learn something new and you’ll be able to use that next time you build.

‘Expect mistakes and problems….Model resilience. Show a calm confidence that your child will find a way. Encourage him to step back and think about his options; if necessary, brainstorm with him. Give him the time and support to solve his own problems.’ ~ Lori Pickert, Project-based Homeschooling

So I sit near Jack or at least in ear shot of him. Sometimes he will ask for help and at those times I’ll sit with him and ask him what he is trying to do. It’s tempting to tell him the reason, that rectangular block is too narrow to have the other one sit on top, but what good would that do? I already know that, but he doesn’t. He needs to find that out for himself. So I try to coax out of him what he is doing and why it isn’t working.

‘What is happening Jack?’ 

‘Why do you think that is happening?’

‘What would you like to happen?’

‘What else could you try?’

Other times he doesn’t ask for help. He starts to repeat the same motion over and over, and as the block continues to fall off, becomes more and more frustrated ending in him knocking down his whole building and throwing a block across the room.

At those times, I need to intervene. He needs to know that he could hurt someone if he throws blocks and that he also needs to be respectful of our belongings. I’ve learnt a lot from Janet Lansbury about setting limits in a calm manner. So with a firm but gentle hand I usually try to stop him from throwing the block and say;

‘I won’t let you throw the block. I can see that you are frustrated.’

What is making you frustrated?’ 

Once he has calmed down we can usually work through it together. I can see this being an ongoing challenge; failure, or at least the perception of failure. I just hope that both Jack and Sarah learn that failure to do something is not a failure in them, that all things come with practice.

10 Replies to “When he Fails: A little lesson with blocks”

  1. it’s wonderful that you share this. so many parents struggle with helping their children deal with those stormy emotions, and it feels so good to know you’re not alone!

    1. I definitely think that all parents go through this at some stage. The thing that helped me the most, that I learned from Janet Lansbury, is that they are his emotions, they are not mine. I do not need to take them on, they are not a reflection of me. Jack is his own person with his own emotions. I still struggle with this at times, especially when I am tired or stressed but when I do remember it makes things so much easier, I come from a completely different place when I am speaking with him.

  2. angatmeltingmoments says:

    You have described my son to a T.
    It is so frustrating for them and hard to see them get so upset. I to try to say the same things to my son and eventually we get there.

    1. Jack is getting there. I think it’s important not to shut down their emotions so they don’t feel that there is something wrong with having those emotions but I also think that it is important for him to learn perseverance and problem-solving. I know this will come with time.

  3. I really like how to tell Jack to stop throwing without shutting him down. I’ll have to remember that.

    1. I learned a lot from Janet Lansbury. This is what she suggests; ‘I won’t let you…’ We used to say, ‘We don’t…’or ‘It’s not ok to…’ but Jack seems to respond better to ‘I won’t let you.’ We use that one phrase consistently now which makes things easier. I like how it recognises that the behaviour is a reaction to something, in this case, Jack’s frustrations.

  4. I also love Janet Lansbury (and Lori! <3)
    We are going through similar with my son, who is just a little younger than Jack and desperately wants his Duplo aeroplane to not fall apart when he picks it up. It is lovely to read that another parent is managing the same problems, and in a similar way. Gives me the confidence to stick with it, stick with him, and eventually he will find his way.
    Thank you, Kate.

  5. Isn’t Janet amazing! Kate, I wonder, how does he react to questions when he is feeling stormy? I look after 4 little ones and I find questions make it worse, but perhaps there is an age difference…
    Thank you for taking the time to share what you are doing on your blog, I find your stories and learnings inspirational.
    Warmly
    Alicia

  6. I find that one of the hardest things is remembering to not reply with “of course you can” to such moments. It seems so encouraging, but really it’s denying their own feelings at that point.

    I have to remind myself to say things like “learning new things can be tricky, and that can make us frustrated and angry, but the best way to get better at something is to practice lots”. If my stepson does act out from frustration I do a similar thing, I label what he’s feeling (“you look frustrated, is that how you feel?”) and then ask him for a better solution to dealing with that frustration (“what can you do instead when you feel frustrated?”)

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