How to Help Your Child Manage Frustration

Frustration. A feeling we often view as something to flee from! While frustration can be an uncomfortable feeling, it is also an important one. It can motivate us . . . to work harder, practice longer, and go after our goals. The downside? It doesn’t feel good. Extreme cases of frustration can even make us feel the need to “give up” or “shut down”.

Frustration has Many Forms

What picture comes to mind when you think of frustration? A cartoon with smoke coming out of its ears? A sad emoji face? Did you know that there are actually MANY faces of frustration?! Take a moment and think about what you may look like when you’re feeling frustrated. How about your spouse or child . . . do you all have the same “look”, or is it different?

Just as we may LOOK different when we feel frustrated, we also FEEL differently. To understand how your child is feeling, take a look at the emotions that may arise for them (tip – consider which of these come up for you):

A black mother and daughter sip water together, illustrating that Susan Gonzales helps parents and children.
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Helplessness
  • Panic
  • Annoyance
  • Anxiety

Children are Always Watching

We are all human. We all get frustrated. Recognizing these frustrations and using strategies creates an opportunity for you to model positive coping skills for your child. Believe it or not, they are looking at us and watching our reactions all the time! Take a moment to reflect:

  1. How do you cope with your child’s frustrated feelings and reactions?
  2. Do you tend to catastrophize or/and over-empathize with your child’s problem?
  3. Are you able to control your own reactions?

Remember, children are incredibly perceptive. If you have difficulty holding their frustrated feelings, they will too!

Help your child manage their frustrations by talking about what it looks like and feels like for them. Share what you notice when they are frustrated . . . does their reaction come in the form of a shut-down, outburst, avoidance? Help them put a name to their feelings and then explore the strategies that can help them feel more calm and grounded in the moment.

Coping Strategies

So what are some coping strategies to model? Here are a few simple, developmentally appropriate tools that you can use to support your child (and yourself) to handle day-to-day challenges.

  • Take a deep breath (soup breath & belly breath are popular with my kiddos)
  • Walk away Run a lap
  • Name it to Tame it! – Dr. Daniel Siegel
  • Drink water or eat a snack

Approach situations with a growth mindset (Changing “I can’t do this!” to “I can’t do this, yet”)

Support your child to consider the worst-case scenario AND how likely (or unlikely) that is to happen.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE PRACTICE. To help your child use these strategies when they need them most, they will need to practice them (during non-stressful times). You wouldn’t run a race without training first. Similarly, to help your child access calming strategies when they need them most, they will need to strengthen their emotional muscle memory! Remember, frustration is not the enemy or something to eradicate. It is part of what makes us human. When frustration rears its head for your child (or you ;)) just remember to notice, name, and soothe.