Why it’s important to experience failure and frustration

Okay, so today we are going to talk about
why it’s important not to fix things immediately. I’m Virginia Spielmann I’m
the associate director here at STAR Institute for sensory processing
disorder in Colorado. I’m going to be talking about why it’s important that we
let our children that we’re supporting, the adolescents that we’re supporting and so
on experience failure, experience negative emotional affect as we
call it. I’m going to talk a little bit for parents at the beginning and
then towards the end I’m going to give some tips for professionals.
So what on Earth – what is the point of all of this. Well, what we believe is that
emotion is a really important part of child development and that is the full
range of the emotional experience. When we’re younger emotions are very
black-and-white, they’re quite polarized things are either great or they’re
terrible it’s a catastrophe – we see that in our infants as they are
cooing or screaming. But as we get older what should happen is that we should
develop a wider range of emotional experience and emotional tolerance – we
should be able to tolerate the emotions that we feel. Feeling and emotion is not
something that a person can control cognitively, especially as they’re
younger, so what we want our children to be able to do as they get older and
older and adolescence and even into adult life we’re still developing these
skills of experiencing an emotion, recognizing it and establishing what the
response is to that emotional experience. So this goes for positive and negative
affective experiences but it’s almost more important with the
negatively-charged experiences, for example if I’m experiencing fear I need
to be able to not just tolerate that emotion but make a plan of action
while I’m experiencing it. Our emotions indicate that something needs to happen
so if I’m scared, I want to be able to be that kind of individual who can identify
why and then, if it’s inappropriate and and illogical, then I need to be able to
process that but if there’s a reason, then it means I’m in
danger and I need to change something. As a parent that might happen on the
playground when I’m watching one of my kids take a risk, I need to be able to
say I’m feeling a bit funny right now, wait a second I think I’m scared when I
see you doing that my body is feeling scared and so I
want you to play on that swing or that climbing frame differently and we want
our children to be able to do the same. But what we very often do as caregivers
and educators and therapists is we go straight to soothing our children or we
distract them, we distract them out of it and we rob them of the opportunity to
really experience something – to practice that skill, and so I go into the
classroom it’s overwhelming, the social interactions are a bit
terrifying and I start to get dysregulated and my little eyes go open
and so someone goes “it’s okay it’s okay there’s nothing to be worried about,
everything’s fine” and so that opportunity that I had to practice
problem-solving and naming an emotional experience is gone because I’ve been
told it wasn’t valid and I’ve been moved on very quickly – it’s fine, quickly come
over here. Or I fall over, I scrape my knee and everyone around me at the bus
stop with my mom says “oh quick pick her up distract her do something else” and
again I was robbed of this opportunity to realize that the movement risk I just
took when I was spinning around the rails at the bus stop resulted in a fall,
I probably shouldn’t do that again, Ow! This really hurts! I need to clean it. All of
those important parts of that experience have gone because of the parents and the
caregivers and the people in the line they got dysregulated, they needed to
soothe me and distract me right away and so I don’t develop that skill.
So it’s really important that we don’t fix things right away and that we
see every negatively charged emotional event, every mistake, every failure, every
bad decision as an opportunity to help our young people grow – to help them
develop problem-solving skills and it also, of course, really importantly helps
them develop theory of mind. As they process what emotions mean for them, they
can begin to understand more and more and more what emotions mean when other
people experience them and going on from there – if I cause someone to
have a negative experience that I can tolerate it, I can problem solve it with
them and that perhaps I won’t do it in exactly the same way next time. What that
means in the clinic for clinicians is that we also can learn to stay calm and
comfortable during experiences that aren’t great – we can see them as
therapeutic opportunities. That’s why I love sharing a gym, a sensory gym, because
someone else might be using the toy that we had on our plan to use and so we can
acknowledge that that feels really tricky, it’s not nice when we have to
share and we can hold that emotion for our children, we can show them – we can
tolerate this experience and then as they get regulated we can move on to
problem-solving with them. The same for falling over – help them fall over safely
but let them fall over safely – safety, safety, safety. But then
hold that, that disappointment – that movement experience didn’t work let’s
problem solve, let’s change our plan. It’s the same for leaving a session,
leaving and transitions are some of the trickiest things that our clients
experience, but when we distract them out of the session, we rob them of a therapeutic
opportunity and so what we want to do is acknowledge – is sit with them and go
“Ough, leaving is sometimes so difficult, I get it” and just hold it
and then we might be able to say to them “we still have to leave – do you want to go
out of that door or that door? Do you want to go out like this or this?” or “how can
I help you to leave even though it’s really tricky today?” we can eventually
move to problem solving. So the point today is really to just start taking
that deep breath as caregivers, educators, therapists to tolerate the negative
experience, to see it as an opportunity and to be able to explain that to each
other as people are watching us and wondering why on Earth we’re not
immediately soothing the child They’re safe, they’re safe – make sure
that’s what’s in place first – and then we’re learning – they’re learning and
that’s what’s great about negative experiences. So again comment if you have
anything, any further questions, anything that you can think of that you want us
to talk about more next time. I hope you’re having a great summer and I’ll
speak to you soon.

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