6 Ways to Help Children Cope with Frustration

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 by from Baby Steps

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frustrated child

It’s no big secret that little kids tend to have very big emotions.  They laugh the loudest when something is funny; they cry the hardest when they fall, and their screams echo throughout the land when something seems unfair. 

Yes, little kids have big emotions.  Particularly when it comes to frustration.

Frustration is a very normal part of life.  It occurs at all ages and stages and, unfortunately, there is no magic cure.  Frustration tolerance is a skill that all children need to learn along the way.  And learning to cope with frustration simply takes practice. 

Here are six ways you can help them work through their frustration: 

Encourage expression of emotions:

When kids get upset out natural inclination is to jump into problem-solving mode.  We want to find the source of the frustration and fix it so that our little ones can be happy once again.  This actually sends a mixed message.  Kids need to know that it’s perfectly acceptable to cry and even yell a little when something is frustrating.  They need to verbalize those negative feelings so that they can calm down and move forward.  Hold them tight when they’re feeling frustrated, but be sure to let them get it out.

Create balance:

Setting limits and maintaining consistency is essential for young children.  It teaches them how to self-regulate.  But kids also need to know that their thoughts and ideas are important, and they need ample time for creativity.  Kids often become frustrated when engaged in a power struggle over something with a parent.  Try to give your kids choices whenever possible, and encourage them to problem-solve when something becomes difficult.  And by all means, leave the crafting ideas up to them!

Break it down:

It’s difficult to stand back and watch when you know that that tower is destined to fall, but little kids often learn by trial and error.  There are ways, however, to help kids learn to manage overwhelming tasks.  Teaching your children to take a frustrating task and break it into manageable parts is a skill that will last a lifetime.  Instead of just building that tower from the ground up, for example, consider encouraging your child to sort the blocks by shape, size, and color first, and then figure out how to build.  When kids learn to approach a difficult concept one step at a time, they learn to problem-solve.

Take breaks:

Little ones are known for being stubborn at times, and some kids will just keep attempting to shove the square block through the round opening no matter how frustrating it feels.  Set a three-minute timer and take a break from the task.  Take a walk around the room, look at a book, or focus on taking deep breaths to calm down

Rely on humor:

A little silly behavior can go a long way toward healing a frustrated soul.  Exaggerate your own response to the frustrating incident while empathizing with your child.  Pointing out that something is hard and following it up with something silly is a great way to break the tension.

Play board games:

Believe me, I know, Candyland gets old.  So does Chutes and Ladders.  But board games remain one of the best strategies for teaching frustration tolerance.  While playing, kids learn to take turns, sit still, and cope with the ups and downs.  When you play 1:1 with your child, you have the opportunity to process the situation and problem-solve together.  During a particularly frustrating game of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my four-year-old and I came up with a slight amendment to the rules to decrease the frustration level.  He learned to verbalize his frustration, take a break, and come up with a solution.

How do you teach frustration tolerance?

Image via Flickr

What do you think? 6 Ways to Help Children Cope with Frustration

Katie HurleyAuthor

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about helping parents enjoy the ride, she provides parent education and simple strategies to take the guesswork out of difficult parenting situations. You can find her at ... More

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6 comments

  1. Avatar of Jane Jane says:

    As a Grandma of two little girls I am seeing all this happen for the second time around and I agree with all the above. you have put it very well I think…. we have one very empathetic 3 year old whose emothions get the betterof her but who is very kind and creative.. the little one is going to be the one to push the square peg in the round hole and shows signs of this already.. and I would add here.. as do many second children..!

  2. Avatar of Kenny Kenny says:

    @ Greg – THANK YOU! You are so very right! So many parents will preach everyones ears off on how important their children are to them and they would do ANYTHING for their offsprings, yet they fail to do the most important thing of all! Setting the example through your own actions is by far one of the most important things a parent can do for their children, yet it still seems to be the most difficult task to accomplish with more than 80% of parents I am aware of in my life!
    "Do as I say, not as I do" is passed along to your offsprings just like anything else you teach them!

  3. Most important is to curb OUR frustration so that we can apply the 6 very good tips. Maybe there are 7 tips…

  4. Avatar of Grace Grace says:

    i didn’t realize board games would help….

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