I know; it sounds like I am being sarcastic. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead of telling children to “Give it another try” or “I know you can do it”, offering help to a young child can have the paradoxical effect of eliciting more perseverance and attention.
It really isn’t all that complicated: think of your own responses for a moment. If you were trying to fill out your tax forms, and ran into difficulties, you might call an accountant for help. If their response was “Just keep trying; I know you can figure it out!” you probably wouldn’t be excited to try again. You might feel even more agitated. I know what I would be thinking:”If I knew what to do, I wouldn’t have called you int he first place!”
If your accountant said “Let me take a look. Oh, I underlined some of the important numbers. You got stuck with line 32b, right?” you could see the issue in a new light, and be able to come to a solution without having to walk away or tear up the form. Your accountant used their advanced knowledge to set you up for success.
We need to do the same thing for children. Telling them we have faith in them, or insisting that they need to try again when they clearly don’t know how to alter their actions, is not kind or even very educational. It leaves them feeling abandoned under stress. Even if we know they can solve for X, they aren’t doing it now.
For the very youngest kids, I have a special solution. You “wiggle it”. Young children don’t know how we understand how to do so many things well. When they get stuck opening containers or assembling objects, I offer to “wiggle it”. By demonstrating that the container does indeed open, or that the bead will fit on the string, I am assuring them that they could be successful. More importantly, I am demonstrating the correct grasp pattern and stabilization method. And finally, I am rebooting their motor plan and their frustration level. Just handing the object over to me reduces their agitation. When children aren’t so frustrated, they can think and create better motor patterns.’
All this from a little “wiggling”.
To read more about building confidence and coordination, read For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance and Why Telling Your Child “It’s OK” Doesn’t Calm Him Down (And What To Do Instead)