Frustration Tolerance

Today we’re finishing up our blog series on understanding temperament by discussing the final characteristic, frustration tolerance. A child’s patience and persistence levels can tell caregivers how a child copes with frustration and how likely they are to stick with a problem or challenge until they find a solution.

Some children are easily frustrated, and tend to get very upset the minute something doesn’t go their way. They have a difficult time waiting for attention or help, and give up quickly when faced with a new challenge. Children who are persistent, on the other hand, have a hard time stepping away when faced with a challenge. They tend to be slower to ‘lose it’ when they don’t get their way and grasp the concept of waiting quicker than their easily-frustrated peers.

Take a minute to think about your own children or the children that you care for. Where do they fall in their frustration tolerance?

Parenting Strategies

Parenting the easily-frustrated child can seem like quite a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. If your child has to wait for something, like dinner or your attention, talk to them about what you are doing. For example, you might say, “I’m heating up your bottle right now, can you please wait until I’m finished?” When your child falls apart, let them know that you appreciate how hard it can be: “Puzzles are hard! It makes me upset when the bear won’t fit in the space.” Then become their coach – let your child think through some solutions without doing the work for them. Teach your child to pace himself, by offering time away from the frustrating task, then returning to the challenge with new energy. On the flipside, when you yourself are struggling with a task, try to remain calm. Remember that you are your child’s biggest role model!

If you have a persistent child, you’ll want to take a different approach. Even though your child may be capable of playing independently, try to remember to join in on their play. While they may be less demanding of your presence, your child still needs your interaction and your ability to model new skills for them to learn. Additionally, as your child grows, you need to let them know that everyone needs help sometimes and that you are available. Persistent children who tend not to seek help may go unnoticed when they are truly stuck on a problem or task by trying the same strategy over and over. If that happens, suggest new ways to approach their challenge.

Protective and Risk Factors

When it comes to frustration tolerance, it’s easy for parents to feel that the persistent child is easier to parent than the easily-frustrated child. The easily-frustrated child has the risk factor of being seen solely for the habit of giving up easily and their lack of desire to challenge themselves. Their positive, protective factor of generally being easier to transition can often be overlooked.

Persistent children lack this ability to transition easily, and it is their risk factor. They can be so attentive to the task at hand that they ignore their parents, caregivers, or other children. These kids may also heavily resist transitions, as they want to complete what they are doing. Alternatively, the persistent child may try more things and achieve more as well, boosting their confidence and exposure to a diverse array of experiences.

Additional Resources