Frustration Tolerance – How much can your kids handle?

How do your kids respond to frustration?

There are times in all of our lives when we have to push through a challenge, go past where we have been before, experience a little pain before the gain to improve our performance or simply make it to the end of the day. Our ability to do this is based on how we are taught from a very early age.

Here is a story from our house.

Christmas morning and in the living room sat a shiny red tricycle. Old school. Ribbons coming out the handlebars, bell on the left side, and the metal seat that looks like it fit more on a tractor than a kid’s first tricycle. Immediately, we took it outside for its first spin.

Our driveway’s gentle downhill slope gave our son enough propulsion to have forward movement on his maiden voyage. FUN. As he turned right onto the walkway, he experienced the gentle incline of this path as the pedals stopped moving under his feet and his forward progress was met with a slowing, a stop, and a slight backwards motion.

As parents do in this situation, we sat, video rolling, and offered our encouragement for him to “pedal,” “push down with your feet,” “turn around,” etc. Without warning he stood up like he had been shot in the rear, pushed the tricycle and screamed, “I CAN’T DO IT!” STOMP, STOMP. WHINE. CRY. COMPLAIN. GRUNT. STOMP.

Stop the camera, this just got ugly…quickly. Yikes. So much for the YouTube clip sent to grandpa in thanks for the trike.

This scenario plays out with all kids.

They are faced with moments when things don’t go their way and how they respond is critical. How you respond is even more critical.

If you want to teach a paper thin tolerance for frustration, help early, help often, and respond with the first signs of distress.

If you teach a paper thin tolerance for frustration you will teach dependence on you to solve problems. Terrible. You might want that now (don’t know why you would, but I have seen it), but soon, you will not be there and it will be a bad situation.

“Breaking through” frustration is learned through experiences when pushing through occurs (i.e. is allowed to occur) and reinforcement occurs as a result. Have you ever seen your kid beat the situation…face the frustration and come out on top? Awesome isn’t it? Why don’t we let them do it more often?

Another story from my house.

I recently got tired of fixing the shirt problem our son (same one) has when putting on his shirt (and the excessive whining that occurred with said problem). Although funny as hell because he puts his chin through first and can’t get the shirt over the top of his head so his face is the only thing showing, we decided to let him figure it out since he was doing it EVERY time, getting frustrated, asking for help, and receiving instruction and assistance from us. Tired of the whining and sensitive to the fact that his tolerance in this situation was pretty thin, we told him to have at it (“as soon as you get dressed you can go watch your show – its on by the way”).

Struggle, struggle, whine, struggle, “I can’t,” – SILENCE – “uurrrrgggh” – “YAY! I did it!”

The joy and satisfaction he got from doing it himself is something I could not have created. He did it, and that was enough. Lesson learned – for him and us:

After you have taught the skills, let them be frustrated. Let them learn. Let them experience it. Then, allow them to experience the rewards of pushing through.

4 thoughts on “Frustration Tolerance – How much can your kids handle?

  1. I wish it was that easy. It doesn’t seem to matter how long I leave my daughter (4-and-a-half) – if she has reached the “I can’t” stage, then she will not come out the other side. She ends up telling me, and the world, that she is useless and will never be able to do it, ever. I’m at a loss, and worried about how she’s going to cope with the frustrations of starting school in a month’s time.

  2. Oh, the follow through is not always easy, but worth it. If she is struggling, start with something with which she has had trouble in the past and get her right to the edge of finishing, then – “you do it.” Make it more likely she does it by herself then slowly fade back to the beginning. Check out the post somewhat related to this “fading” of support and sweetening the pot when you need to.

    Definitely be careful with any response to the negative statements and other overly-emotional statements.

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