Improving Frustration Tolerance in Children


As we progress through thee school year, many parents may wonder how we can specifically help children improve frustration tolerance, navigate challenging feelings, and problem solve successfully at home and in the classroom as they encounter new experiences or difficulties.

The following strategies have been found to strongly assist in the challenging feat of growing a child’s frustration tolerance:

  1. Provide Exposure to Frustration: Ironically, one of the best ways to improve frustration tolerance in children is to expose them to varied experiences where they might encounter it! Parents are advised to observe, analyze, and learn about their child’s progression from mild frustration all the way to extreme frustration. Experts suggest parents refrain from helping their children through experiences yielding mild frustration and gradually offer more support or redirection only as escalation is observed. It is said that the more children are exposed to frustration, the longer and more effectively they can process and regulate through these emotions.
  2. Provide Game Play Opportunities: Surprisingly, games are one of the best ways to help children build stronger frustration tolerance. Through the design and nature of simple gameplay, children are provided with experiences in winning/losing, their concentration/motivation is challenged, and they are met with the potential of experiencing set backs whether big or small. The learning of advantages vs. disadvantages and successes vs. failures through game play is one of the earliest ways children can access lessons in frustration tolerance.
  3. Give Pep Talks: As parents anticipate situations which may result in frustration for their children, they are advised to provide helpful language around the situation, to label feelings in advance, and to discuss potential coping strategies. For instance, in building a block tower, a parent could describe, “When we build our tower, it could fall down. It can be hard to build it back, but we can do hard things. I wonder if taking a deep breath can help us if this happens.”
  4. Offer Books:  Use of children’s books are reported to be great tools for helping children navigate and better understand their feelings through perspective taking. Two reputable books for building frustration tolerance include “B is for Breathe-Written by Melissa Munro-Boyd and A Little Spot of Frustration-Written by Diane Alber.)
  5. Use Scaffolding: Through use of scaffolding, parents are encouraged to bridge the gap between what their children can easily handle and what they are learning or having difficulty in doing. For instance, in building a block tower, if a child can successfully build a tower once it is started but has difficulty building a solid foundation , a parent could suggest, “I wonder what would happen if we put a big block at the bottom to start our tower.”
  6. Use Body Mapping:  Research shows that children often struggle to draw conclusions between their feelings and how these manifest physically in the body (e.g. stress contributing to a sore neck, frustration contributing to clenched jaw/fists.) With body mapping, parents can help their children connect what they feel and what might be happening physiologically. For instance, a parent could explain, “When we get angry, our heart might race and our face might turn red. When we feel this way, we should get help.”
  7. Identify Triggers:  Although all people experience frustration, all of us have different triggers that can contribute to escalation. There are a few common triggers often associated with childhood including the difficulties brought on by transitions, bullying, difficult subjects in school, hunger, exhaustion, as well as encountering unexpected events.

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