Have you ever watched your child struggle to put on a pair of shoes?
How long have you simply observed him shove puzzle pieces into the wrong spots?
What should we do when we see our children facing difficulty? It's our job to help them, right?
It's our job to rescue them from frustration.
Building frustration tolerance in children is a great way to help them develop emotionally - and save your sanity at the same time.
Frustration tolerance is the ability to work through a problem, to breathe, and to (hopefully) figure out a solution.
This skill is one your kids will need the rest of their lives. From peer interaction to work problem-solving, frustration tolerance is about more than just throwing toys.
Have you ever heard of the Hygiene Hypothesis?
The theory suggests children's immune systems develop better when they are exposed to various, well... germs. Kids who live in sterile environments are actually at a greater risk for developing allergic and autoimmune diseases.
What?? Being clean might actually cause more sickness?
Hmm... Maybe we should chill out with the Lysol and the sanitizer, and let go a little bit.
Good intentions to protect our kids can backfire.
So what the heck does hygiene have to do with toddlers grappling with shoes and puzzles?
Exposure to germs builds better immune systems.
Exposure to frustration builds stronger emotional development.
It is normal to want to protect our children from unpleasant emotions. But by limiting exposure to age-appropriate frustration, we are discouraging the development of perseverance, determination, and ability to handle uncomfortable events.
Children with greater frustration tolerance grow up to be happier and more successful. They understand that things aren't always easy and pleasant, and they survive it.
Below are 9 ways to help your child build frustration tolerance:
1. Play Frustration Tolerance-Building Board Games.
Cooperative board games require players to work together to win. It's a good way to build tolerance and diffuse the feeling of Parents VS. Kids. Trust us, it works.
All the games require taking turns, following rules, and losing. Start with quick games and slowly increase the difficulty and duration with games of strategy for older kids, like Battleship.
2. Stand Back And Wait
Observe. Don't come to the rescue too soon. Be patient and believe in your little one.
When my child tries cramming the wrong puzzle piece into one another, I want to just quickly hand him the correct pieces, but that would be doing him a disservice.
Let your child experience frustration.
If they never experience it, how can they learn to deal with it? Frustration tolerance is about getting through the tough things, not getting out.
3. Encourage Expression Of Emotions
Hearing children when they're upset sucks, but stomps and screams are just as normal as giggles and coos (though less pleasant).
Frustrated children crying are as normal as happy children laughing.
Children need to know that healthy emotions (and expressions) are normal and acceptable.
Feelings aren't scary. Let them let them out!
4. Let Them Experience Consequences
Last night my three-year-old wanted a bedtime snack. I opened his yogurt for him, and after a bite or two, he became interested in something else and left his food.
I asked him, "Are you sure you're finished? You left the table and there won't be anything else offered tonight." He was sure until he went to bed telling me he was still hungry.
5. Firm Up Boundaries
Children NEED boundaries. They need freedom within those boundaries, but a child only thrives in an environment where they know what to expect. Help them.
Set firm "family rules" and be a model to your children.
And remember, children need to hear "No." To a toy while grocery shopping. To another episode of TV. To a second bowl of ice cream.
Kids need limits, and they need their parents to be in control enough to stick to them.
There's a book we're obsessed with on this topic. It's about setting them up for success through the use of firm, gentle discipline. It makes a huge difference. Check it out here.
6. Show, Don't Tell
How do you act when you are frustrated? I know my son has heard me give up and declare, "I can't handle this!" or "I'm done!"
Those little ears and eyes are listening and watching, and dammit they are always learning, so the pressure is on! Recently when he was driving me nuts with a bedtime battle I said, "I'm feeling frustrated so I am going to take a break."
I couldn't believe it when he said the same thing during a play date with a fellow three-year-old. He excused himself to the laundry room and calmed down.
7. Teach Coping Skills
Count to 10.
Take deep breaths.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth (stops the fight-or-flight response).
Or sing a line from Daniel Tiger, "When you're feeling frustrated, take a step back, and ask for help." (We watch it with our Amazon Prime Membership with no ads. Try it free by clicking on the image.)
8. Delay Gratification (Often!)
Yes, you're tired. Yes, you just want them to finish so they can go to bed.
But a little delay will make you life a lot better in the long run.
Last night, before bed, Javin and I were coloring together. Whenever he wanted the crayon I was using, he would say, "Can I use that?" while trying to snatch it from my hand, mid-stroke.
I couldn't care less about the picture I was coloring, but for the sake of frustration tolerance-building, I made him wait till I was finished using it.
He was surprisingly cool with it and said, "Okay, I'll just color this part instead."
9. Help Kids Identify Feelings
Simply knowing how they feel and being able to talk about it will help them feel more in control. This book is helpful for kids under the age of 8.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but in the long run, sickness makes you healthier and frustration makes you calmer.
Why is it that when my son is frustrated, I want to pull my own hair out, too?
As he builds his tolerance, I realize I must build mine too.