When our toddlers are whining or our school-aged children are struggling with homework, it’s normal to want to step in and stop it. For one thing, we don’t want to see our children unhappy. And, let’s face it – whining, crying and complaining are like those proverbial nails on a chalkboard. We can hand them a phone to play with, or solve a problem for them, and presto – happiness…and quiet.
But the thing is, frustration (within reason) is fundamental to development. Here’s why, and how you can help your child learn to tolerate it.
Why Frustration is Fundamental
Put simply, frustration builds frustration tolerance which, in turn, builds central life skills. Here are some examples of how it works:
“I’m bored” → “I can tolerate boredom” → “I can use creative thinking to find something to do.”
“This is hard” → “I can tolerate challenges” → “I can use problem-solving skills and perseverance to accomplish difficult things.”
“I’m not getting what I want” → “I can tolerate disappointment” → “I can accept that things don’t always go my way.”
“I don’t like how this person is talking to / treating me” → “I can tolerate social conflict” → “I can use social communication skills to work through tricky interactions.”
When we don’t allow our children to experience frustration, they miss out on building frustration tolerance and, in turn, the valuable skills that help them cope with life’s difficult situations.
But we’re not suggesting that you remove yourself from the situation entirely! You actually play an important role in helping.
How to Help Your Frustrated Child
The next time your child is frustrated, keep these points in mind:
Model calmness. By remaining calm yourself, you help to co-regulate – or use your own emotions to influence the emotions of your child.
Empathize. Let your child know you understand that boredom, struggling with a hard task, disappointment, social conflict, etc. are difficult. As tempting as it may be to say something like, “Don’t get so frustrated,” it’s important to allow your child to feel his or her feelings.
Think “coach,” not “fix.” This is the hard part. Instead of handing over your phone, solving the problem, giving in, or otherwise squashing the source of your child’s frustration, try these:
- Help brainstorm ideas of things to do
- Help brainstorm ways to solve a problem
- Explain the logic behind why you set and stick to certain rules
- Teach strategies for emotional regulation, like deep breathing, stretching, taking a walk, or body mapping (draw a human figure and have your child color the parts where he feels different frustration-related feelings)
Above all, offer praise. Over time, your coaching will help your child learn the life skills that frustration tolerance opens the doors to. Developing frustration tolerance is hard work, so any time you see your child working through frustration, point it out and offer praise.