When Kids get stuck - An old post from Beth Edelstein of http://thinkkids.org/
When kids get stuck-we basically have three choices on how to handle it-We can let them have their way (Plan C), We can force them to get unstuck by imposing our will(Plan A)or teach them the skills they need to get unstuck for this and other situations through collaborative problem solving(Plan B).
With Plan A, you will get him unstuck while addressing your concerns, but your are likely to cause a meltdown which isn't likely to help him the next time he gets stuck. With Plan C you will get him unstuck, he won't meltdown, but you won't be teaching him any skills or addressing your concerns. With Plan B you will help him stay calm (avoid a meltdown) so he can think clearly, teach him the lacking skills, while still getting him unstuck and addressing your concerns.
As described more fully in the handout and book, Plan B has 3 steps:
1. Empathy (typically accomplished through reflective listening) and Reassurance, where his concern gets on the table
2. Problem Definition, where your concern gets on the table
3. Invitation, where you work together to find a mutually satisfactory, doable and durable solution
When kids get stuck, I find that they are typically stuck on one particular solution to a concern that they often are having difficulty articulating. With help to articulate the concern, rather than the solution, it opens the door for the adult to express their concern and a win-win solution to be found. How is that accomplished? Often with a few questions, such as: I am wondering why?, how come?, what are you afraid of or worried about?, "why is that?" Lets take the example of when a child comes to you and says "I want to go the store now to buy x". Using Plan B, you would want to empathize with that: "You want to go to the store right now to buy x". This is really a solution though to a concern he has that is not yet defined. There are so many reasons/concerns why he might want to go the store to get x today. You need to help him articulate the concern (I think of it as peeling an onion). So, you might say-how come? He might say that it is because you promised he could get it, or his friend has one and its cool, or he is bored with the toys he has or...... You may have to dig further then, for example-if you promised he could get it, you might need to ask-Why is that we need to go get it right now? What is he afraid of if you don't get it right now. Let's say he then says or through suggestions from you, such as-Do you think it might be that you are afraid that I might forget to take you if it doesn't happen right now? or Do you think it it is just going to be really hard to wait? you find out that he is worried you will forget. You can then empathize with that, "You are worried if we don't go now I might forget". You would then share your concern, i.e.: "I am concerned that if we go now I won't be able to make dinner for the family and we are all getting hungry. You can then invite him to find a solution: "Let's think of what we could do so you don't worry about my forgetting to take you to the store and I can cook dinner right now." You would give him a chance to come up with a solution first before making suggestions. Let's say he suggests getting the toy now and going out for dinner. You will want to help him look at the likely outcomes of that, i.e.: That is an interesting idea, it would work for you because you would get your toy now, but it wouldn't work well for me because going out for dinner would cost money that I need for other things our family needs. Let's see if we can think of another idea that would work for both of us?... As you can see the goal is to come up with a solution that takes everyone's concerns into account, allows you to get your expectations met, that he/you are capable of doing.
What I have described was Emergency Plan B (in the moment). By reviewing those situations where a child frequently struggles (as you describe doing)it gives the information we need to do Proactive Plan B. What would that sound like? Empathy: "I have noticed that when you get an idea about something you want to happen (like the other day when you wanted to get the toy right then) that it is hard for you to wait". (Defining his concern-really just expressed his solution) I am wondering why that is?........