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Parenting — Temper Tantrums

Dealing with Frustration

Dealing with Frustration 0


Dealing with your child’s frustration

This week several parents talked to me about their surprise at how frustrated their little children could become, and how intense their frustration can be. It was interesting for me because this week I had more on my plate than I could handle and became very….frustrated. So I thought I’d write a bit about it.

Frustration is an interesting emotion. By definition:

frustration is a common emotional response to opposition... frustration arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfillment of an individual's will or goal and is likely to increase when a will or goal is denied or blocked.

Well for me that definition totally describes my sources of frustration this past week. I had so many things and small details coming at me that had to be dealt with at the same time. I felt like I was juggling many responsibilities, putting out “fires” in different areas of my life and not doing any of it very well. I felt my personal goals were constantly being blocked...and I was very frustrated.

As parents you surely know what that feels like. You need to get out the door and your child resists getting dressed. You’re trying to make dinner and your child has a meltdown. Your partner who was supposed to watch the kids so you could meet your friends and finally get a break, calls to say they have to work late. The list goes on. Life can just be super frustrating sometimes.

If you know how frustrated and annoyed you can become when your goals are blocked or thwarted, imagine how it feels to be a child who has little to no emotional self control. Not only do they have little control over their emotions and how they express them, they just plain have very little control over anything in their lives.

So of course they get frustrated.

You see it when a baby tries to hold something or reach something but just isn’t developmentally ready. You see it when a toddler wants to put on their own boots but just can’t get them on (if they do and they’re on the wrong feet, let it be. Their feet won’t be ruined by a few walks in the wrong boot!). You see it when a preschooler doesn’t want to leave a friends’ house.

You could probably write a volume on all the things that frustrate children.

The reality is that frustration is a very real part of life. And it follows us wherever we go and whatever we do.

So how do we help our kids (and ourselves) manage it.

  • Recognize and identify it - frustration is felt in the body. Your adrenalin flows, your breathing changes, your jaw may tighten. You can see this in your children. Their faces may scrunch, their cheeks get red, their fists may pound, they may bang their heads on the floor or wall (or pillow if they are in bed). They are signalling through their movements and expressions that they are frustrated.
  • Give the experience words - give children the language of emotion :
    I can see you want that toy and you are sad (angry, frustrated) that you can’t have it. I know its hard when you can’t get that puzzle piece in. I know you really wanted to stay longer and you are frustrated that we have to leave now….etc.
  • Use those words even with preverbal children. They will grow to have a feelings vocabulary and be able to identify what is going on inside them later on. ‘Oh I can see you are really trying to stand up. You are trying so hard.”
  • Be there for them and offer comfort - this does not mean you are  “giving in”. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in your own frustration with what is happening. You are the grownup and your being calm (and firm if necessary) and compassionate will go a long way to defusing a situation.

How successful you can be with helping your child deal with frustration will depend a lot on your child’s innate temperament. Some children are easygoing and can be helped out of frustration with a few loving words. Some take life very hard and are intense in everything they do. They need more calm from you, more support and more time to deal with their feelings. (And you will probably need more time and support to deal with yours!)

Bottom line, frustration is real from birth on. Learning to recognize it and handle it successfully is one of the best gifts you can give your children and yourselves.


Have a wonderful day,

Judy Banfield
Owner of Mountain Baby and Parenting Coach