I am a nanny for a little boy a couple months shy of two years old. Like any other toddler on the planet, Jake becomes frustrated over little things. There he'll be, playing with a couple of Legos, when all of a sudden, his underdeveloped fine-motor skills fail his eager hands and the plastic tiles foil his quest to fit them together.
Nine and a half times out of ten, when Jake can't seem to get something right, he starts frantically whining, screaming or crying. But I religiously meet his frustration with a ritual:
"Jake, are you feeling frustrated?"
"Yeah," he'll whimper.
"What do we do when we feel frustrated?" I ask him.
Jake has been through this enough times to know our two-step process:
1. Take a deep breath
2. Ask for help
I see him inhale through tiny rounded lips, exhale into a smile, then gently call my name for help. Just like that, crisis averted.
Just the other day, I got incredibly frustrated over a little thing. I mean, what 24-year old woman doesn't know how to French braid her own hair? On my third attempt I could feel the blood rushing down to my shoulders from my hovering hands. My face grew hot and my breath dwindled down into short, angry puffs.
Suddenly something triggered my memory: This is when I'd ask Jake to pause and take a deep breath. I met myself with the exact same patience I offer to Jake, because at the end of the day, I should treat myself with the same amount of love and understanding.
Frustration, sadness, jealousy, fear. These things don't go away just because we get older. In fact, whenever these feelings resurface, they expose our inner child — a smaller, more fragile part of ourselves, someone who seeks help, comfort, or even spiteful compensation.
Adults who fail to meet their inner, fit-throwing child turn into the angry bosses who makes harsh, unwarranted critiques of their employees, feeling personally attacked because their expectations weren't met. They turn into the people fighting in traffic, flipping each other off or screaming profanities with heads sticking out of windows, really going at it like a couple of chimpanzees.
If I have learned anything from working with children, it is that we adults, as much as we hate to admit it, are just giant, functioning babies with better fine motor skills and more responsibilities. So next time you become aware of your own frustration, treat yourself the way you would treat a toddler.
And if all else fails, take a deep breath and ask for help.