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Things about which we do not speak: frustration

It is easy to believe, even for long stretches of time, that this life we've created is charmed and perfect. We love what we're doing, what we're exploring and researching, the books we're reading, the topics we're delving into. In part, that's the point. Homeschooling allows us the freedom to make that happen.

But the truth isn't at all that simple.Even the things you love become tedious at times, and that old adage, about anything worth doing or having is worth working for, is true.

Things often come easily to Calvin. Over the years it has become increasingly clear that he expects this, and when something isn't as easy as he expects, he becomes frustrated quickly. It's a common reaction for bright kids, but it's hard to watch. My go-to response has always been to applaud his struggle and use that old adage about the greatest things requiring greater work, but it usually falls on deaf ears. And why shouldn't it? The more I've thought about it, telling him that the things he struggles with are worth more only negates all the things he's learned easily in the past. And aside from nobody wanting their knowledge demeaned, the truth is that it's a lie, and kids can see right through lies.

And there's another important piece to the puzzle, too, the piece that adds color to the overall picture. Our feelings, our emotions, add color to our lives, and frustration is one of those emotions. In telling my son that he should revel in his struggles and award himself for hard-won feats I'd hoped to aleviate his frustration and avoid what is ultimately a painful and frustrating experience for myself as well. But that's the wrong lesson. Frustration is part of life. And while I'd like him to learn how to successfully work hard for his achievements, and to self-reward, it is just as important to me that he learn how to be frustrated and self soothe, or calm, then move forward.

So over the past few months we've changed our approach to frustration. It started with admitting that I had been wrong, followed with the admission that we all get frustrated (as if he hadn't seen me deal with frustration myself), and ended with what I hope will be the ultimate lesson: that the frustration matters less than what you do with or after it. But frustration response is habit forming, and it can take time to change bad habits. Around here our go-to response to frustration has been negativity, like grumbling, physical outbursts, or even giving up. So we introduced positive and negative jars: in the face of frustration, when we choose to respond in a positive way a pin goes in the positive jar, and vice versa. A positive reaction can be laughter, a reframing of goals, or simply walking away, but most importantly, it can come after an initial outburst, because expressing frustration is okay.

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