Beyond Games: How to Help a Frustrated Child

Does your child fall apart when frustrated? Avoid situations that carry the risk of failure? Children who cannot tolerate frustration often do not take on the types of challenges that help them improve in academic or recreational activities. If your child flings their bat and screams, “I’m never playing baseball again,” every time they strikes out in a game, they are not displaying the persistence needed to get better. Once you know how to help a frustrated child, you’ll be able to demonstrate that handling frustration and failure is the key to improving at anything in life. In this edition of our Beyond Games series, we outline strategies to help children increase their tolerance for frustration.

Get frustrated on purpose. Increase frustration tolerance by gradual exposure to frustrating experiences. This is a natural feature of most video games, which start with the basics of gameplay and slowly add more challenging moves and environments. But this works with any game, digital, tabletop, or physical. Playing a game that is frustrating can help your child learn to use coping strategies to work through strong emotions. Count how many layups they make out of 10 tries when playing basketball, then move back a couple of feet at a time to increase the difficulty of the task. Help your child be realistic and understand that the ball does not go into the basket every time. Talk to them about the difficulty and skill involved in activities like musical performance, scoring the maximum amount of points in a video game, or getting a perfect score on a school test.  Provide personal examples of not receiving A’s on every test in school or missing a putt while golfing, yet still persevering.  It will be important for your child to understand that “you can’t win them all.”

It’s OK to get angry sometimes.  There are legitimate reasons to feel anger on occasion.  Your message to them should not be, “Don’t get angry,” but asking whether this particular issue is worth getting angry about. How they expresses and control anger is what is important.

Model frustration. Do not be afraid to show your own frustration as a tool for teaching your child. Frustration and disappointment are a part of life, and real-world modeling of this can be helpful. Just be sure not to overdo it. Use strategies such as self-talk, acceptance of situations that have not turned out how you would have liked them to, and “letting go.” Demonstrating that you are upset but are coping effectively is extremely valuable for them to observe.  Talking about a previously frustrating and disappointing experience and how you were able to move on from it may be helpful, as well.

Treat yourself. Model effective strategies such as “stopping” or “personal treats” for dealing with anger and frustration. Show them how to take a “time out” in situations of anger or frustration, and how to avoid an angry response by taking 10 deep breaths or closing his eyes for a few seconds to clear his head.  Once the initial anger has ceased, brainstorm solutions to the problem or positive alternatives he could use.  This strategy could be verbalized, for example, stating, “I’m frustrated that the computer’s not working, so I’m going to walk away for a few minutes.  Then, when I’m calm, I’ll come back and figure out how to fix it or call someone for help.  If I allow myself to get upset about it I’ll probably be grumpy all day and still have the computer problems.”

Role play. Demonstrate and role play regulation of affect. Help your child explain why they or someone else might behave a certain way. Children who talk about their feelings, such as, “I’m angry because my brothers always tease me when I lose,” are more likely to be able to regulate their emotional expressions. Set an example for them by using brief narratives, for instance, describing how upset you were when your boss or co-worker gave you a large project to do just as you were leaving to go home. Role play possible reactions to hypothetical situations such as getting blamed for something you didn’t do, being left out by your friends, or having to do someone else’s chore because that person forgot to do it.

Want to learn more about self-control and the regulation of affect sub-skill? Do you have a child who needs to chill? You can find lots of resources here on our site.


Featured image: Flickr user Dmitry Sumin

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