Me: But I already gave you two candies. They were good, and you enjoyed them. You can have more later.
Smarty: I don't want those two! I want another one!
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Are There More Effective Ways to Cope with Frustration?
Smarty is approaching 10 now, so why did I choose to write about helping younger kids to deal with frustration? As a matter of fact, I wrote this post first when Smarty was not yet 3, and I thought it was interesting to revisit this topic now and see whether these principles still apply to older kids. Also, while Smarty is overall a fairly mellow child, she has her "moments", and I think that some refresh on dealing with frustrating events will be beneficial both for me as a parent and for her as she is about to enter her tween years.
As a parent of a bright and inquisitive young child, I found a lot of great advice in Einstein Never Used Flash Cards book by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., with Diane Eyer, Ph.D. It gave me some interesting insights on dealing with frustration in preschoolers in the chapter on social intelligence:
Researchers at Temple University of Philadelphia conducted a study on how parents help their children cope with disappointment and how successful children get in regulating their emotions later. The study was done on 4 year-olds, and the researcher observed four types of parental responses to their children' frustration. So let's talk about what you usually do when your preschooler gets frustrated?
- Do you shift your child attention from a frustrating event?
- Do you comfort your child by holding her or verbally soothing her?
- Do you "reframe" the situation by pointing out possible positive outcomes?
- Do you encourage your child to change the situation by "sticking for himself"
When Smarty was young, we were not big fans of "distraction techniques", but they work better than punishment or reasoning when a young child is already caught in negative thinking. As Smarty got older, we were also teaching her to look for alternative solutions to the problems causing her frustration including shifting her thoughts and activities to something that she enjoys.
In studies cognitive reframing was associated with lower levels of both sadness and anger. Children whose parents take effort to reframe frustrating situation are learning to see the silver lining. This was especially true if the children perceived their parents to be warm and responsive to them. You can check this provocative post by Kara Carrero on reframing language and "parenting without saying No".
Sticking for Themselves
And now comes a familiar idea that we should teach our children to stick for themselves in frustrating situations. It does not come as a big surprise that many fathers of boys believe in this response as the best answer to frustrating situations, because they are worried that their sons won't be able to stand up for themselves when they are older. Surprisingly, research has found that the children who were encouraged to change the situation on their own had more anger and sadness than those whose parents chose the other three strategies I described above. While we all want to teach our children to solve their own problems, our preschoolers and their age peers simply do not have executive skills and emotional maturity to be able to deal with frustration on their own. So, please do not suggest to your preschooler to "figure it out" when another child rips a toy out of his hand and runs away with it.
So what kind of parent are you and how do you teach (or taught in the past) your young kids to deal with frustration?
More Parenting Posts
From my blog:
- The truth about strict parents
- Is there a goal in motherhood?
- How to support growth mindset in our kids