Teaching Kids to deal with Frustration

It is no unusual occurrence, the juvenile meltdown in classrooms is usually cause to summon a meeting with the child’s parents. Most often the parents are shocked and appalled that their bundle of joy, who , for the most part, is bright and cheery with his friends and family, could suddenly react so “out of character”.

Many times these outbursts of temper or emotion can begin to affect other aspects of the child’s social and even academic progress. When faced with a particular situation or difficulty, the child will “flip a switch”, going from a happy and amiable demeanor to angry and hostile in a flash.
It isn’t so much the case that the child ‘ flips a switch’ as much as the child is reacting to an exterior trigger unleashing a fair amount of pent up frustrations and feelings he has not had a time to deal with. The clues of a meltdown brewing inside are not even evident until they have reached critical mass and the smallest things can cause the whole thing to blow.

This is not a secluded incident, children are full of very big emotions, even pint-sized toddlers. Anger and frustration are powerful emotions and a small child’s reaction can be especially intense. As adults we should be aware of the danger of pushing buttons and not having a practical plan for dealing with frustration.

Kids are not born with a contingency plan for dealing with the frustrations this world can rain down on people of all ages. With this in mind, part of preparing a child for a productive and fulfilling life is teaching them some fundamental techniques for keeping our tempers cool and frustrations at bay.

Developing appropriate techniques and teaching them to children involves an investment of time and patience.

The good thing is that parents and children have, in their family dynamic, all the tools and materials needed to build a formidable frustration contingency plan right in the comfort of their own homes. With a little guidance you can set your child on a path for dealing with frustration.

Following are a few strategies that can be adapted to the specific needs of your little one.

Body Mapping

This is a terrific way to raise awareness of the psychosomatic effects of frustration. Small children are not familiar with the connection between their emotions and the way they are feeling.

An aware adult may feel a tightening in the chest or throat and maybe a sore neck and know for sure their emotions are about to boil over. By increasing this awareness, adults can begin to practice simple things that can automatically reduce levels of stress and defuse the imminent meltdown.

Children are not naturally inclined to this connection, they may feel the tension in their little jaws and sore muscles after clenching fists, but they rarely make the association of the physical symptoms with their emotions.

Body mapping is an excellent strategy to engender these conclusions in kids of all ages. Get a large piece of paper and some bright colors, crayons have a classic appeal to them. Draw out the outline of the child’s body on the paper and ask your child to point out the places they feel affected when they are upset.

You can start off by pointing out how the heart races when tensions rise or that the dizziness in the head is another sign of trouble. Have your child color in the places that feel sore and tense red. This activity is important as a reference point for your child to recognize the emotions they are experiencing.

This makes an excellent platform to begin another discussion on the things that make them feel this way. But save it for another time, it is important to internalize the lesson and help the child to understand they alone are responsible for their emotions and feelings as well as how they respond.

Discussing Triggers

sad boy

No two kids are the same and you may be very surprised to find out what it really is that can set your child on edge. It is not uncommon for the smallest things to perturb a small child who is learning much about their environment.

Following are some of the most common triggers to watch out for:

1. Transitions – to and from school, visiting relatives, new piano classes etc.

2. Peer Interactions – other kids can be intimidating and their benign play habits can be perceived as hostile or negative.

3. Challenging academic work – even children in preschool can be frustrated when working with scissors or new material.

4. Feeling alone

5. Being misunderstood by adults

6. Feeling tired, hungry, hot , cold,etc.


Remember that your child may not understand why they are feeling the way they are or what is causing it. As a parent keep a handy note book with you, if your child begins to experience the physical symptoms of a meltdown coming on, use your experience and discernment to decide what is truly perturbing the youth — maybe their shoes are too tight.

By keeping a careful record you can rule out some of the biggest causes of tension and anxiety like hunger, exhaustion or simple boredom.

A MAD List

Having a way to interface with the feelings of anger is another way to help a child regain control over themselves. Even as adults the need to vent is an important way to blow off steam and this can save a life. Children want to blow off steam as well and so they throw a fit, because it feels good to let it all out they’ll just stick to that until someone offers something better.

One activity that has been very effective here is the Mad List. This technique allows the child to vent, while at the same time teaching them the value of reflection which in the long run, will help them manage their emotions in the future.

When your child is especially angry take the time to sit with them and make a list of all kinds of things that drive them bonkers. Show empathy as you listen to them, encourage them to express themselves without holding back.

When the list is completed hand it over to your child and tell them to tear the paper to pieces and throw the pieces in the air. This is the important reaction to the feelings they have toward the listed annoyances. After they have scattered the pieces, have them collect the pieces and throw them in the trash, this is the moment for reflection, where the child will be able to experience what their angry actions have really accomplished.

Don’t rub any of the points home, it is ideal if this activity is done a few times for the reflection to be properly illustrated.

In conclusion — Teaching a child to rule their own emotions and temperament is one of the greatest things you can teach a child. Being in command of their spirit, means they will never be subject to the major aggravations, frustrations and disappointments they will indubitably face as they grow.