Andrea Loewen Nair: Connect-Four Parenting


Helping Our Children Grow Their Frustration Tolerance

Tips for guiding children through frustration

Frustrated kids can be hard to manage and hard on our sanity. I have had days where I did everything possible to reduce any frustrating experiences for my child, wincing at the first sign of an oncoming tantrum.

It turns out that if we are trying to control our children's environment so they don't get angry, we aren't teaching them how to be angry, or how to increase their frustration tolerance. We also aren't increasing our own frustration tolerance or emotion regulation skills if we become afraid of anger. We need to guide our children through the frustration, not away from it so they aren't conflict avoiders when they become adults.

The most important factor in frustration tolerance is what a person tells themselves. As parents, it is our role to influence our child's self-talk with positive statements. I love this quote, "Be careful how you speak to your children, one day it will become their inner voice." -Peggy O'Mara

When the sh*t is hitting the fan, we want our children to be able to talk themselves through it. So, the first way to grow frustration tolerance in your children is actually to notice how you respond when you are impatient, overwhelmed, upset or "annoyed." Your reaction to these situations is going to greatly influence how your children handle the same experiences. What are you telling yourself? Do you have rational or irrational beliefs? Are you rude or friendly? Do you make a sour face?

Here are some common negative statements (irrational beliefs) and the positive ones (rational beliefs) to grow in our children and ourselves:

1) - "I can't handle this."

+ "This is rough, but I can do it." You will not die or lose your mind if something breaks, you have to wait, you can't find something, or things don't turn out the way you want. Choose to be calm. Tell yourself to take a breath and try again, ask for help, or find a different way. Accept when something is really hard. Deal with the reality of the situation you are in, problem solve and focus on the options you DO have, not the ones you do not.

2) - "I should always be happy."

+ "Happiness, sadness, fear, and anger are all part of a normal life." When we learn to express all our emotions, they can be processed so we can move on. Sometimes when people are focused on being happy, all the ignoring of their anger turns them miserable in the end. If you would like to read more about this, I recommend the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham, PhD.

3) - "I can't wait."

+ "Waiting is okay." If you are in a situation where you really can't wait, leave and plan to come back. If you don't want to wait, ask yourself what you could do to make the waiting okay. Take some time to have full, slow breaths or be thankful to have a moment of rest.

4) - "Things don't go my way. This always happens!"

+ "Things do happen. That's okay; I can handle it." People will continually experience challenges. I have learned to be thankful for my challenges because they usually end up teaching me something valuable in the end. Shift away from victim language to capable language. "Yup, tough things happen. It's a good thing I have people around me to help, or that I will figure out what to do."

5) - "I hate being frustrated. I will avoid it at all costs."

+ "How can I plan to reduce frustrating situations?" Thinking ahead to plan a route with less traffic, or making sure you have enough water and snacks for the day are examples of mitigating frustration that is within your control. When the frustration is not in your control, accept it, surrender to it, and think. Take a moment to regroup and ask yourself what you need to do to get through this situation.

6) - "I don't have time for this sh*t!!!"

+ "I need more rest and to schedule better. Am I getting enough fun?" Nuff said.

7) - "People are always annoying me."

+ "I didn't like what she did but I'm not going to let her ruin my day." We do not have control over other people, but we do have control over how we react to them. We also have control of our thoughts and can choose to stop thinking about or talking about a negative situation. Accept the real emotion you are feeling instead of "annoyed." Is it anger? Sadness? Substitute a different word for "annoyed" and just sit with how you really feel.

8) - "What a day. I need a drink!" or "This is too much. Let's go shopping."

+ "I need to find a way to get all this crap out of me." When we model avoidance of feelings, we may inadvertently lead our children down the addictions road. This article is not about coping strategies, as many entire books have been written on just this subject. Please notice if you are saying or doing these kinds of things, and seek out a book or helper so you can learn how to feel rather than avoid.

Once you have the language to instill positive self-talk in your children, use these words repeatedly. When you see your child melting down, infuse him with empathy and positive messages.

The next factor in teaching frustration tolerance is to not cave if your child might experience anger. If you need to say "no" to having a third cookie, do it calmly, with empathy, and firmness. "You are not having three cookies. Having a third cookie hurts our body. I'm okay if you are angry at me about that." Let your child be angry and stay calm. I am going to refer back to the book I mentioned above if you would like some help with managing your child's anger.

There was a time when I felt my kids were getting angry all day long. As a psychotherapist, I knew this meant I needed to have a chat with a colleague to see which of my buttons were being pushed, get some strategies, and hear her ideas. Taking time to check in with a professional is definitely worth the energy and money.


I continually provide free parenting resources on my Facebook page at if you would like to join in. Feel free to ask me a question there.

Best wishes for high tolerance!


Photo: flickr creative commons azo in the flickr