How did adults help you learn to work through frustrations as a child? My parents praised me when I did well. “You got a hundred percent!” I don’t remember positive feedback for persisting at something I wasn’t good at or for showing self-control after a huge disappointment. How did your parents help you to keep going and manage in emotionally hard situations?
These questions are pertinent right now, as psychologists and educators are observing that after three years of the pandemic, children appear to have a lower tolerance for frustration, give up more easily, and have bigger emotional reactions in general to situations. Thinking about gaps in our own social-emotional learning can help us understand the difficulties children are having now in compassionate ways. It’s also a way to be more compassionate with ourselves.
Is it any wonder that the aftereffects of dealing with all the demands and constant changes associated with COVID would leave all of us, especially the youngest, more vulnerable when it comes to handling frustration. Maybe we all need a giant reset that will allow us to learn some possible lessons from this period.
When it comes to getting distressed easily, we accept that two-year-olds throw tantrums when they can’t get what they want. As children grow, we expect them, with consistent help from adults, to gradually develop more tolerance for handling disappointment, more persistence in the face of difficulties, and a better use of words to resolve conflicts. In these days following COVID, we are witnessing more challenges in handling difficult situations. How do we offer more targeted help?
Talk about ways you handle frustration. “When someone starts talking to me while I’m listening on the phone, I get overwhelmed. So I tell myself, ‘It’s only an interruption, you can handle it.’”
Recognize ways you see your child’s maturing ability to handle disappointment and conflict. “I saw how patient you were with your friend when they wanted to play a different game.”
Point out triggers that tend to dysregulate your child and ways to problem-solve. “When your brother starts touching your things, it’s often upsetting. How could we make a plan ahead of time?”
Talk about people’s varying strengths and discourage comparisons. “Some people have athletic abilities and can learn to go across the bars very quickly, while others find learning to read easy.”
Have your child rate frustration on a one-to-10 scale. “I know this is an upsetting situation. What number would you give it, if one is the least upset and 10 the most upset?”
Some children have consistent problems, having meltdowns when their wishes are thwarted. It’s important for parents not to simply avoid any situation that causes children difficulty, or they won’t learn. Children can benefit by rehearsing ways to react when the situation isn’t occurring.
Since the ability to deal with obstacles is so key to well-being and success, parents may want to get specialized help for their child and find resources that offer parental support and encouragement.