Son is Frustrated that Mom Can’t Understand

Dear Miss Faith,
My little guy (2 yrs 4 m) seems to be getting frustrated a lot when he doesn’t have the words/ ability to explain what he needs help with. For example, he may want to build a tower with pillows in a certain way and wants me to help, but isn’t able to express how he wants me to help. So, I will guess and ask questions and try different ways, and when I don’t get it quite “right”, he will say, “No, no!” and sometimes he tries to explain with motions or his own words (i.e. non-English words I do not understand). So I keep trying and if I still don’t get it right, then sometimes he gets so upset he bursts into tears. I try to be compassionate but I wish there was more I could do to help him when he feels so upset. Would love any ideas you may have to share.

Dear Mama,
Being frustrated at not being able to speak often precedes a big developmental leap in speaking, so don’t despair. But what to do in the meantime? Sometimes just acknowledging what’s going on before he get so frustrated that a melt-down is imminent, can help. “You want me to do it your way, but I can’t understand you! Darn, darn, darn!” Show that you’re frustrated, too, then stop for a moment and look him in the eye and smile sadly. “Someday I’ll be able to understand every word you say. But what should we do today? You show me.”

Stopping to connect, instead of just guessing and trying (unsuccessfully) to fix it, can change the energy and drain the frustration a little. Like I said, do it before he’s so frustrated that he can’t do anything but cry.

Give Him Something to Do With His Frustration

If he’s already pretty frustrated and doesn’t know what to do with those feelings, you might try giving him a physical way to express it, that’s fun. “You wish you could tell me, but you can’t! We don’t like that, not one bit…. Let’s stomp our feet together to show how mad we are that we can’t understand each other.” Make your hands into fists and stomp-stomp-stomp. “Come on, let’s do it together!” Stomp-stomp-stomp. Or another time, “Let’s growl like angry bears. GRRRRRR!!!!!!” And shake your head back and forth while you do it. After doing it together a few times, chances are that you might catch his eye and the two of you can laugh together, and then move on.

Find Something Similar that You Can Both Enjoy

A third idea is, instead of trying to do what he wants and getting it wrong again and again, you might try shifting things around by saying, “Let’s come back to that later, when we’re both a little more fresh. In the meantime, let’s work on another part of it. I think I’ll take these cushions and make a pathway all the way to the stairs.” Again, make your new part fun, maybe by making a funny sound each time you put a cushion down, or saying “Eenie, meenie, meinie, mo!” as you put four cushions down. This re-directing works really well with some kids, and not at all with others. Try it with your son and see if it helps. Then you can come back to the original part of the fort later, and see if there is some new energy or new ideas on how it could be done.
Warmly, ~Miss Faith
I love your comments! What’s worked for you and your children? Please share your thoughts below.


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