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How to Help Your Five-Year-Old Children Handle Frustration

Updated on May 26, 2011

Almost any time young children are faced with a big "No" to their requests, desires, and wishes, frustration results. For most parents, dealing with a child's frustration is itself a frustrating event. Your child can't have what she wants—a piece of candy or a new toy—and you can't have what you want—a cooperative, pleasant child.

Children are not born able to tolerate frustration. As with many other skills, learning to tolerate frustration is a develop­mental process. Hunger, tiredness, and illness all serve to lower your child's frustration tolerance.

Children also attempt to accomplish tasks that are beyond their means. This is the way children learn, and the frustration that accompanies it is both healthy and necessary for learning.

Frustration also results when children don't get what they want. This may be the result of limit setting by parents (no candy before dinner) or events out of their control (toy doesn't work or Mom gets sick on the day of the circus).

How do you help your child (and yourself) get through these frustrating times? When your child is not feeling stressed, teach patience by helping him to delay gratification. When he asks you to play a game while you're in the middle of a task, have him wait for a short period of time. Praise him for being patient, and gradually work on increasing the time he has to wait.

Empathize with your child's feelings of frustration. Such statements as, "You worked so hard on that building and it keeps falling over," validates his feelings. Verbalizing the prob­lem can also help pull for possible solutions. After empathizing about the building, saying something like "How can you make it stronger so that it will stay up?" gives your child a cue about solving the problem.

Provide an alternative for your child when he can't have a desired object. When your child asks for candy in the grocery store, suggest another, more acceptable alternative. This may not always work, especially for the child who is intent on a candy bar. For other children, however, the alternative choice may be reasonable. If your child is engaged in an activity that is causing frustration, suggest that he walk away for a few minutes or try to engage him in a different activity for a period of time.

Some typical situations that cause frustration for five year olds include wanting anything and everything when shopping, sharing with friends and siblings, asserting their independence with dressing, dealing with household rules, such as bedtime, dealing with losing, and making mistakes.

Sometimes it is helpful to address a problem before it occurs. You know your child better than anyone else and can probably predict the type of reaction he may have to particular situations. If your child has difficulty in a store, explain ahead of time that you are not buying any toys or candy today. Similarly, if household rules are a source of frustration, give a warning to allow your child to prepare. Letting him know there are 15 minutes until bedtime or dinner may help alleviate some of the frustration felt when it's time to turn off the television or put away the toys. For the child who has difficulty sharing toys, scheduling play dates for a limited period of time (perhaps start with 30 minutes) may help build in success. As your child is able to share for longer periods without reaching his frustration level, you can begin to increase play time.

Providing a positive consequence for appropriate behav­ior will also help your child learn to deal better with frustration. When you go into a store and your child allows you to shop without asking for every toy or candy he sees, a small treat along with positive feedback will reinforce the appropriate behavior. Be specific in your statement so your child knows exactly what behavior is being praised. "I'm proud of you for not asking for anything today. It makes shopping much more pleasant." You can use similar statements for other situations that may be a source of frustration for your child. Small treats can consist of a variety of things including candy, a quick trip to the playground, or an extra story for being ready for bed without a fuss.

When your child misbehaves out of frustration, it is impor­tant to provide firm consequences. If your child experiences frustration during an activity that is so intense he gives up, intervene as quickly as possible so that he has an opportunity to experience success. Modeling patience for your child in day-to-day routines is an important component in his ability to learn to deal with his own frustrations.


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