Helping Your Child Deal With Frustration

Helping Your Child Deal With Frustration  scaled
Helping Your Child Deal With Frustration

Children react instinctively when they’re frustrated. An adult can easily recognize when progress has stalled in the middle of a task, decide to take a break, and revisit the task later. But a child may throw their drawing book against the wall, bang their fist on the table, and cry out, “I’m sick of this! I’ll never be able to do this!” Another child may quietly abandon the task and stay away from trying anything new. Every child reacts differently. Without help, a child’s frustration can lead to deeper emotions, prompting unexpected behaviors like tantrums and even hitting.

“Frustration in and of itself is not a bad thing—it helps children learn how to become more resilient,” says Heidi Emberling, Director of Parents Place. Most times, parents aren’t generally worried when their child gets frustrated. They understand that it’s a part of life, and exposure to frustration helps build grit and coping skills. The difference is in how the child handles their frustration. This is why when a child quietly retreats to their room in frustration, parents rarely go after them.

Signs of a Low Frustration Tolerance Child

Albert Ellis, the American psychologist and psychotherapist, first looked at Low Frustration Tolerance in the 1950s. He was the first to examine the effect of people’s own self-defeating behaviors. In his book, Ellis identified the difference between two clients who wanted to start a business.

The first client gave up after the first problem he encountered, convincing himself that he was not intelligent enough to run a business. The second client persisted after the first problem, believing that it was just a setback and would pass. Ellis coined the phrase Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT) after observing both clients. Just like the first client, a child with LFT tends to reach that point where the frustration from a task becomes so insufferable that they feel the only natural thing to do would be to give up. That’s when your child reacts uncontrollably. Here are some signs of LFT in children.

  • They are always complaining. Every little task causes undue distress, which leads to complaining whenever your child is faced with a task. This may seem like a normal thing on the surface. But if the complaints are incessant, never-ending, and related to setbacks, it may be a sign of low frustration tolerance.
  • Close-minded beyond reason. Usually, you have some success in reasoning with a child, even amidst their discomfort. However, a child who’s struggling with LFT may not be reachable. Their distress may consume them so much that you struggle to bring them out of that state by reasoning with them.
  • Displays extreme emotions and is always negative. The display of intense and impulsive emotions is another sign to look out for. Emotions include extreme helplessness, anger, and depression. This usually results in the belief that things should work a preconceived way or at a preconceived point. When they don’t work, an extreme reaction follows.

How to Deal With a Frustrated Child

How you react to the behavior of a frustrated child makes a great deal of difference. Admittedly, it can be frustrating to deal with a frustrated child, especially in public. It can also feel that you are making little progress week after week. Repeating the same conversations again and again and seeing the same mistakes again and again. Below are a few tips on how to deal with a frustrated child.

  • Remain calm. During emotional moments, it is crucial to stay calm. If you show signs of tension or frustration, your child will feel this, and the situation may worsen. But being human, there will surely be times when you’re frustrated by your child’s frustration. A good trick is to get the other parent to take over from you if they’re available. If they’re not, give the child something to do and take a break for a few minutes to calm yourself.
  • Get on the same frequency. Sometimes communication can be at the heart of your child’s frustration. And when a child feels like they’re not understood, they might react in frustration. Maybe they’re showing or telling you something, and you’re not listening. Ask your child to repeat what they said so that they get the feeling you’re listening.
  • Occupy them with something. Responsibility helps your child become invested and productive. Children usually take pride in their work. It would help if you leveraged this during moments of frustration. For example, if your child gets frustrated at the grocery store, you could say, “I know you’re feeling frustrated we’ve been here for a while. Could you help me take this to the car so we could go home?” Make sure that you’re giving them an age-appropriate item.
  • Comfort the child. This may be what your child needs in their moment of frustration. It can come in the form of just being present to help them work through their feelings. It could also come in the form of a hug or just sitting next to them. You could also try to act out the way you want them to behave when frustrated. You can do this by taking deep breaths as you sit very still beside them. Then when he or she regains composure, talk with them about their feelings.
  • Use natural consequences. It can be tempting to yell when your child is destroying their drawing book out of frustration. Yelling only injects more tension into the already tense atmosphere. Instead, let them go on with destroying the drawing book. When you’ve validated their feelings and calmed them down, don’t rush to replace the damaged drawing book.

How to Teach Frustration Tolerance to Children

In Transforming Teen Behavior, Mary Nord Cook, a board-certified child, and adolescent psychiatrist, writes that developmental psychology research has demonstrated that emotion regulation, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving skills are not primarily wired in youth but instead are cultivated via relationships with primary caregivers and other key adults. This is to say that as a parent, you play a vital role in teaching your child tolerance. Below are ways to teach your child tolerance.

  • Encourage them to imagine other perspectives. One prominent source of frustration in children stems from their difficulty in picturing different perspectives. So other people’s actions might come off as unfair. Encouraging your child to look at things from other perspectives shows them that other people also have reasons for doing things. As your child gains insights into other people’s minds, their tolerance level improves. This will take time to develop, as most children don’t even begin to understand any other perspectives until around the age of four.
  • Don’t shield them from frustration. As a parent, you know that your child will surely encounter frustration long after they’ve moved far away from you. Teaching them how to handle frustration is a gift. Avoid coming to their aid in potentially frustrating situations, as long as they’re not in danger of any actual harm. Not limiting your child from age-appropriate frustrating situations helps them build perseverance and coping mechanisms. This is an excellent reason why all children should play sports, even if not sporty. It might just be that they have not found the right sport for them.
  • Promote emotional expressions. No parent wants to hear their child wailing. However, to encourage expression, you have to let your child pour it out. They need to know that crying is as normal as laughing. Also, teaching your child to name what they’re feeling helps them identify frustration and develop an appropriate response. Only when they can name emotions will they then start to differentiate them and learn to control them.
  • Teach positivity. Distortion of thinking is one of the biggest triggers of frustration. Distorted thinking makes a child view things negatively. In the mind of an easily frustrated child, they look at a situation and distort it into an extreme negative form of itself. Then every situation seems bleak and hopeless. Teaching them positivity builds their tolerance for frustration. It helps them see things in a more favorable light. If your child is overly negative we give some advice here.

Final Thoughts on Helping Your Child Deal With Frustration

Low tolerance for frustration is by no means a permanent flaw. While the focus is mostly on children, parents also need to check themselves to be sure they’re not contributing to their child’s frustration. The kind of parenting heavily based on “should” might place an undue expectation on the child. “This should absolutely be this way” or “That should surely be this way” breeds a mortal fear of mistake. This increases the likelihood of frustration. Children who are easily frustrated need calm guidance. If frustration is met by frustration, it does help give the signal that it can be overcome. I have found this one of the hardest things in my own parenting. At the time of frustration, I let it work its way out as my child cannot take on any learning. Then, when calmer, maybe that evening in bed, I talk through how they felt and why. Then we talk about how to deal with or avoid the same situation again.