Failure and Trauma

Easter Holidays and of course the weather is decidedly chilly.  So options of things to do mean I’m not in great favour of the park until the sun is well and truly heating up; I’m sure we will go at some point although they are getting a bit old and trying to be too “cool” for the park.

Today Biggey is at the stables for the day so Littley has a friend over to play. I’ve brought them to a ceramic studio. It seemed like a good idea. It’s not too busy when we arrive which is a bonus. The staff do their cheerful chatty explanation and the girls go and choose a money box penguin to paint. Littley is quite happy to follow her friend.

After just a few minutes I remembered why we don’t take them to arty crafty places. These are places and activities where they have to

  • Choose
  • Make decisions
  • Risk it being wrong
  • Constantly check for approval
  • Discuss everything beforehand
  • Show me each small stage
  • Worry in case it’s no good

Gawd its tiresome…..question, question, question.  Always seeking confirmation, assurance, recognition.

Yet I try my best to smile and continue to be cheery and helpful and encouraging. Then when I’m in need of ‘a moment of calm’ I order a cup of. tea. Whilst taking a moment to enjoy the simple pleasures I am happy to discover they have a Teapig Peppermint. Ahh lovely.


The friend then tells Littley that the great thing about art is that you can’t get it wrong!! I smile to myself and I’m glad someone has been listening to me! Then friend says

Littley you need to stop fussing!

I nearly fell off my chair. That was exactly what I wanted to say, yet I know she needs to fuss; she needs reassurance and all that. Yet it was funny.  However, this is not really just about fussing.

This is about a fear of failure (and other stuff).  It’s what happens to children when they have been neglected, ignored, ridiculed or chastised in some way when they are attempting to do things or when they make a mistake.  The brain registers this, consciously or unconsciously, it registers that they are expected to do everything perfectly and so they become scared in case they fail.  This scared feeling is probably not recognised in them either, yet the Fight Flight response is generated and as parents we will see it in a variety of ways, be it low level fussing, as with Littley or in big meltdowns or something in between.  Left without encouragement and reassurance they end up worrying about even trying new things.  This is what I like to refer to as ‘anticipatory anxiety’ where Littley worries and fusses about everything new and different.  This is why it is important I keep my emotions in check and try to reassure and praise and give approval (OK I don’t always manage it!!).

Eventually (after some significant gentle input from me) she managed to calm down somewhat and get into the swing of painting the penguin and coming up with ideas that were different from her friend’s ideas.  Great, I thought.  No so bad after all.


Then someone brought in a baby to have their feet printed on a plate.  Oh that did it!  The baby started crying (of course) when the cold paint was put on her feet and Littley froze and stared.  She can’t stand it when she sees a baby having ‘something done’  that makes baby cry.  It’s part of her trauma.  I gently reassured her that baby was fine and that the mummy was looking after baby.  Still frozen.  It took a bit more reassuring and a couple of sweets (sensory regulation) and nudges of distraction to get her moving again but she kept a very close eye on what this mummy was doing with her baby.  After a short while baby went to sleep and I pointed this out and also said that the mummy was still holding baby in a safe, warm and caring way.  This seemed to help Littley.  The friend just looked at me like I was mad.  Good.  Normal service resumes then!  I’m often looked as thought I am mad.  I am used to it.   It would seem they can get on with painting penguins.

The new baby family left and we had some nice chat and some painting happening.

Then another family came in with a tiny baby.

Oh bugger!  Here we go again!

More frozen child.  More staring.  Young parents did not respond as kindly to the baby, they chatted more between themselves.  I could feel the transference of fear and annoyance coming from Littley.  Then as a result of that, I could feel myself beginning to get irate.  So I was working hard at soothing and reassuring Littley as well as working hard at keeping myself in check when all I wanted to do was say ‘right, enough, just finish up and lets go!’  I managed to contain everything and gently suggested they start finishing off.  We had been there for an hour and a half by this point so felt I could be reasonable about my request.  The penguins were completed covered and they were really just gaffing with elaborate decoration and trying to use all colours and stencils!!

I managed to get them out of the place with all of us remaining calm.  They trotted on ahead back to the car park and I took a moment to release the tension (which really means I’m swearing profusely in my head!!!!)  Is there something of an issue everywhere we go? Well quite honestly yes there is.  It might be big, it might be small, it might have meltdown or just some fussing but all tracks back to bloody trauma, neglect and attachment and yes, that early life experience!

Yet I try hard not to moan; being very conscious of how it drags me down and doesn’t help the situation or our family.  So I take a deep breath and try to find a positive.  So, today, we all survived the experience without meltdown. So in the scheme of things, in our life, all in all a fairly good couple of hours (quite expensive though!).

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