When Things Go Wrong
Children may want to try big-kid skills that they aren't developmentally prepared for, such as a two-year-old who wants to pour milk from a gallon jug, or a four-year-old who doesn't have the dexterity to master shoe tying. If a child becomes frustrated in these situations, Dr. Long suggests parents stop the activity and return to it when the child is older and has developed preliminary skills that will make the task easier.
Regression may also hinder progress. "This can happen for a variety of reasons," says Dr. Long. "One reason can be attention. If this is the case, then parents need to make sure their child isn't getting more attention when they don't do something than when they do."
Some children may be developmentally ready for a new big-kid skill but just aren't motivated to try it. Providing positive feedback and comments about other children who are trying or have mastered the skill may encourage an unwilling child. Verbal encouragement and a hug will help children build confidence and independence will naturally follow. When a child becomes discouraged or frustrated with a new activity, Dr. Long recommends parents "provide an example of remaining calm." Assistance and encouragement will help alleviate the child's stress.
The opposite extreme may occur in strong-willed children. What if a child's independence becomes rebellion, such as when a toddler refuses needed help? According to Dr. Long, "Following parental directions is very important for children. Parents need to make sure the directions they give are clear, simple, and concrete. Not minding should be handled in a consistent and matter-of-fact manner."