Fixing frustration

From meltdowns to temper tantrums, dealing with your child’s frustrations can be, well … frustrating. It is those moments where your child just simply can’t handle the big frustrations – some call it similar to “flipping a switch” or reaching a “breaking point.”

Katie Hurley, LCSW, writes, “Anger and frustration are powerful emotions, and children’s reactions can be intense in the moment. As adults, we know when our anger buttons are pushed. We know what we need to do to work through something frustrating in an appropriate manner. Kids, however, don’t enter this world with a pocket full of frustration management skills.”

For children to effectively face different situations in their daily life, they need to learn to deal with frustration from an early age. As parents, you have an opportunity to teach your child frustration tolerance.

Teach coping skills

One of the most unique strategies is called “body mapping.” Work with your child to draw the outline of a person and to think about all the places on his/her body that feels sore or different when they are mad. Use yourself as an example, pointing out that your head hurts when you’re mad, and that makes your head feel dizzy. Help your child identify the places on their body that hurt, and color those places red. Tell your child that when those places start to feel red, his body is signaling him to get help in a frustrating moment.

Take notice of your child’s behavior with each incident and learn what triggers can bring on intense behaviors. PBS.org notes the following triggers that often can bring about big frustration: negative peer interactions, challenging academics (yes, even in preschool-cutting with scissors can be very frustrating), feeling misunderstood by others, lack of control, hunger, exhaustion and unexpected situations. Keeping a trigger tracker noting when, where and why tantrums are happening can help parents respond accordingly.

Practice deep breathing – both parents and children. I taught my son this technique years ago, knowing that some incidents will trigger anger more than others. For us, it takes just 10 deep breaths, counting down until the tears end. Others might want to consider, the stoplight method. Most children know that red means stop, yellow means slow down and green means go. In this method, teach them to visualize a red light to stop in a moment of frustration. This is when they can tap into deep breathing to calm their minds and bodies. When they shift to a yellow light, they should think of three possible solutions. When they visualize the green light, they can pick an option and move forward.

Lies About Parenting suggests that “By limiting exposure to age-appropriate frustration, we are discouraging the development of perseverance, determination and ability to handle uncomfortable events. It is said that 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.”

Teaching children to cope with their frustrations will benefit them their entire life.

I hope you and your family are having an enjoyable summer.


Carrie Kube is a Director for Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area Board.

All thoughts and opinions expressed are that of the author and not the Board and/or its community partners.