Teaching kids to deal with frustration
December 28, 2012 9:19 AM   Subscribe

How did you teach your toddler/pre-schooler to best deal with frustration?
posted by drezdn to Human Relations (15 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
By example, pretty much. Your children learn most by watching how the people around them deal with things. Attempts to 'teach' behaviours are much less effective than just behaving as you'd want your child to behave in the same circumstances. So when you're playing together and your toddler knocks over that Lego tower you both spent ten minutes building, you say "Oops! Oh dear, that's sad. Never mind though - let's see if we can build an even bigger one" and carry on as if nothing much happened. I think the worst thing you can do is to treat the associated emotional upset as something that can be 'fixed', either by excessive comforting, or by encouraging the child to give up and move on to something else. A child that learns to persevere has gained a wonderful life skill, one that I wish I had more of.
posted by pipeski at 9:41 AM on December 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

With greater ability to communication comes better ability to deal with frustration.

Helping to model sharing one's emotions can work too. "Honey, I bet you're angry that you can't watch another Caillou."
posted by k8t at 9:43 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

1) Consistently reward occurrences of delayed gratification, 2) Model adaptive methods of handling frustration yourself 3) Set realistic goals and objectives for child, 4) Consistently ignore episodes of low frustration tolerance 5) provide child with as many age appropriate skills as possible, 6) encourage the child to express frustration in verbally acceptable manners 7) reward and stimulate verbal fluency.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:46 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think one way is to just let them get used to feeling it - don't insulate them from it. If you see they are having trouble with a puzzle, don't jump in and do it for them. Let them get frustrated a little - the victory of finally getting that piece in place will not be lost on them. If you see them getting really frustrated, say something like, "I see you are frustrated. When daddy gets frustrated with something, he takes a break/talks about it/asks for help" - whichever applies to the situation at hand. Help your child to become familiar with their emotions, the good and the bad ones and learn appropriate responses.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:48 AM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not a parent, but I remember my mother naming the feeling for me, and that it was easier to deal with when I could say that I was feeling frustrated.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mostly by practice -- let them be frustrated and let there be moments you know will be frustrating each day. Give some time and space to feel it and figure out how to get past it.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:01 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my son was about two-and-a-half, we gave him a 'calm down spot'- a corner of the living with a big soft pillow, a couple small toys, one of these jars, and a rotating collection of picture books he's familiar with (including books like Hands Are Not for Hitting or Mad Isn't Bad or whatever seems appropriate for whatever phase he's going through). Whenever he would get super frustrated or otherwise upset, I'd ask if he wanted to sit in his calm down spot until he felt better, and then we could talk about it. (I never forced him to sit there--it's not a time-out corner, just a comfortable place for him whenever he needs/wants it.) For the first few weeks, I would go sit there with him and practice BIG SLOW BREATHS and read one of the books or watch the glitter swirl around the 'calm down jar' with him. Now, when he starts getting mad about something, he'll go there by himself until he shouts Mama, I'm calm now!!! and then we can figure out how to deal with whatever was stressing him out in the first place.
posted by logic vs love at 10:10 AM on December 28, 2012 [16 favorites]

When my 2 year gets angry, I tell him "close your eyes and take a deep breath." 75% of the time it seems to help. I offer the boob when things get crazy (like this morning, when he had a total meltdown because Jingle Bell Rock ended on Pandora). I also offer hugs and if he doesn't want that I tell him he can go sit in his bed and let us know when he's done yelling. He comes back out when he's done being mad and asks for hugs and says "sorry mama."
posted by chiababe at 10:28 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I tell him that he can hit a pillow or something else soft (instead of me), and then I get a pillow and he usually laughs at the idea, so all is well, all of a sudden.
posted by trillian at 11:23 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Naming the feeling is a HUGE help for little kids who feel overwhelmed by their feelings. We take for granted as adults that, yeah, obviously something can frustrate you, but for kids who are just getting their emotional sea legs, not knowing where a feeling comes from or why it's washing over them or how the hell they're supposed to handle it is just REALLY hard on their systems.

Scenario: You just got home from running errands and your three year old wants to take off her sweater, but today was really cold and her fingers are clumsy from being numb, so she can't properly unbutton it. She yelps and starts pulling at the sweater, jerking around the buttons.

You [get down on her level, look her in the eyes, don't look pissed]: Whoa! You look like you're frustrated! Are you frustrated?
You: Okay, yeah, I see that it's hard to unbutton right now. Feeling frustrated is normal, but instead of ruining your sweater, take a deep breath and wait for your fingers to warm up. Can you take a deep breath?
You: Deep breath.
Her: [breathes]
You: Okay, try again.

I also agree that you shouldn't swoop in and shield kids from their emotions. In this scenario, you're basically teaching her to accept the frustration and then push past it. This book and this book and this article are good places to start. Basically, there's a lot of (ha) anxiety about how we've started protecting our kids from their negative emotions, and when we specifically protect them from feeling frustrated, we're preventing them from learning how to overcome obstacles on their own. Then they stumble upon an obstacle when you're not around to protect them and they freeze up, or think it's not worthwhile to make an effort.

So yeah, name the emotion, help her recognize what frustration feels like, and encourage her to develop coping mechanisms to prevent short circuiting her entire emotional motherboard.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:08 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

The therapist we're working with to help our 12 year old deal with frustration highly recommended The Whole Brain Child which is written for parents of kids of all ages.
posted by elmay at 12:29 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good answers above, and I'll recommend that slightly older toddlers can be asked questions to help them to problem-solve on their own. They need to learn to remember that there is life after frustration. They need to learn to get unstuck.

I sometimes work in a kindergarten with plenty of three year olds and have learned from the teachers and ECEs to name the feeling, ask questions and prompt them to figure out what to do (before the frustration really escalates.) It's along the lines of zoomorphic's example, but we need to move faster because there's one of me and 26 of them.

For example:

"Let's see - your zipper is stuck. That's frustrating. It won't go up - will it go back down so you can try again?"

"Hmm...you can't get your zipper started, and that's frustrating. Do you know a friend who can help? Would you like to ask me to help?"

"Oh dear. You're frustrated because it's hard to get your coat on. I know a trick about keeping it zipped part-way at the bottom. Then you step into it. Do you want to try my trick?"

You can offer different options, too. I remember my daughter being floored one day by saying "You don't have to get mad about this. Let's take a breath or two, and how can we move on?"

And though unsolicited, I'll suggest that you need a few coping skills for dealing with the frustration too. Madamina's (friend's) Robot Nanny Advice has saved my bacon at home, at work and at play. When a toddler, any toddler, is getting frustrated and it's on your last nerve, switch into RoboNanny gear. To paraphrase: "Child need name for feeling. Give child recognition and coping mechanisms. Hug child. Enjoy smelling head. Beep bork."
posted by peagood at 12:52 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you can find a copy, Fred Rogers, What Do You Do With the Mad that You Feel?
posted by 4ster at 4:08 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Much of it is simply brain development, so provide what she needs for her brain to develop. Namely, a loving stable home in which she is attached to one or more caregivers who behave mostly predictably and don't abuse or neglect her. Food. No major trauma. All that kind of stuff. If she has all of that, and does not have a developmental disability, brain injury, mental illness, etc. you would have to work hard to keep her from learning how to deal with her frustration.

A lot of things parents worry over are just genuinely difficult to fuck up in kids from happy, stable households. Follow your instincts and you will probably do fine. If you have trouble, talk to other trusted parents or your parents. There are lots of ways to approach this that will work out well in the end.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:09 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Based on some coincidental musings of my own this evening, I can't nth the young rope-rider enough, even though I have bookmarked links from everyone else who answered, and plan to forward this entire thread on to my husband, as our son nears 2 years old.

Thank you for asking this!

Total coincidence. I was listening to a podcast on the way back from the gym tonight, and the interviewee was talking about how children from abused homes are targeted by adult predators and the like, because the trauma in these children's childhoods makes their brains form differently, etc.. And I thought back to how shitty my childhood was, and how much more accomplished socially the other children in my classes who came from stable homes seemed at school (3rd grade was especially difficult for me, and I harkened back there, but I could easily pick examples back to kindergarten.)

While I'm not perfect as an adult or parent, I do meditate a lot from time to time, and have worked hard generally to change and overcome my childhood. Although I worried heaps about how my childhood would effect me as a parent, all of that self-work has translated into a super calm way of parenting. I'm nearly unflappable, and I understand my son's reactions from the inside, because I remember being in his position.

I try to do for him what my parents did not know to do for me. I talk. I explain. I get calmer when he gets upset. As he is only 20 months, after explaing whatever, I distract him with stuff that will put a smile back on his face. When he cries, I don't panic, but I don't give in. I explain some more. In short, even though he isn't speaking yet (and even when he will start speaking) I don't treat him like he's stupid and can't understand. I assume he'll match me if I keep modeling kind and thoughtful behaviors and responses.

I can not WAIT to teach him to enjoy and learn from his mistakes, instead of forstering a feeling of shame about them.

This is a great question. Don't know if I added anything. Just wanted you to know that when I was super young, I absolutely remember noticing that children from homes where yelling and flip-outs were not normal, were children who were for SURE better adjusted and happier than I was.

That you even asked this question says you have the right idea. Right on!
posted by jbenben at 11:40 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

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