By Katie Hurley, LCSW (pbs.org)
A mother of a six-year-old boy called me in tears. After yet another meltdown in his classroom, the teacher requested a meeting with the parents. The mother assured me that her son is sweet, funny and very bright. He’s the life of the party at home and has tons of friends. The meltdowns, she thought, paled in comparison to the rest of his personality.
The problem, of course, is that the meltdowns affected his ability to learn. When her son encountered something frustrating, he “flipped a switch.” He went from happy and engaged to angry and screaming in an instant. This pulled the teacher away from the class, negatively affecting the entire kindergarten classroom.
It didn’t take long to determine that it wasn’t so much that he “flipped a switch” when he encountered something hard, but that the buildup of frustration over time resulted in huge meltdowns when he finally hit his tipping point. He was missing his anger cues throughout the day, and that caused a flood of emotions when he confronted something particularly frustrating.
Many young children struggle with frustration tolerance. Anger and frustration are powerful emotions, and children’s reactions can be intense in the moment. As adults, we know when our anger buttons are pushed. We know what we need to do to work through something frustrating in an appropriate manner. Kids, however, don’t enter this world with a pocket full of frustration management skills.
Developing coping strategies to deal with frustration requires time and practice.
The good news is that parents can help kids build frustration tolerance skills at home. With a little bit of guidance (and a lot of patience), you can teach your little one how to cope when the going gets tough.
Try a little body mapping. Young children don’t make the connections between their bodies and their emotions. I know, for example, that a sore neck means I’m under stress. Given that knowledge, I can take a moment to figure out what I need to do to decrease my stress level. Children struggle to draw those conclusions. They might experience sore muscles from clenching their fists, but they won’t stop to think about how their emotional states contribute to those sore muscles.
Body mapping is one of my favorite strategies from “The Happy Kid Handbook” because it helps kids of all ages. Draw the outline of a person (or if you’re like me, Google and print). Ask your child to think about...(click here to continue reading)