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Building Frustration Tolerance: 5 ways to help kids recognize and control this emotion

Everyone has a frustration tolerance.

Our days are made up of micro moments, and these small interactions are often… frustrating. Your internet is being slow during a Google search, or the person who drove the car last forgot to fill up that empty gas tank. And am I the only one who sees the overflowing trash can? For all of those situations, and more like it, it’s important to have high frustration tolerance because how we handle the micro moments determines the look and feel of our big picture.

Studio 5 Parenting Contributor Heather Johnson emphasized the importance of coaching the little people in our lives who might need help with frustration tolerance.

As Heather put it, “Let’s be honest, all families have a kid that maybe gets set off a little easier than most.”


Recognizing Low Frustration Tolerance

Heather explained that frustration tolerance is any time the inconveniences of everyday life set us off.

“Everyday life is filled with inconveniences. There’s lots of them. But when kind of those annoyances set us off in big ways, we probably have low frustration tolerance, and we want to work on it.”

Heather suggested looking for signs of low frustration tolerance in ourselves and our children.

“Kids have low frustration tolerance if they get irritated with their family pretty quickly, or if their outward expression of emotion doesn’t match the situation. For example, if they wrote the wrong number on their math paper and their reaction is too big compared to what just happened.”

Understanding the Causes of Low Frustration Tolerance

Heather pointed out that unhealthy narratives and belief systems can contribute to low frustration tolerance.

“We have unhealthy narratives when our kids hear in their head, ‘I’m not good enough’, or ‘I’m stupid’, or ‘I’m dumb’. When they’re hearing those things, that’s going to decrease their ability to handle frustration.”

Teaching Kids About Emotions

Heather said that until we teach kids what normal emotions are, they don’t know. And when they don’t know, then they feel like they’re the only ones. And as soon as they feel lonely in it, they feel like something’s wrong with them.

“First we’re going to normalize this frustration. Here’s the thing about our kids: they don’t know what emotions are normal unless we teach them. They don’t know that it’s normal to feel frustrated. They don’t know that it’s normal to feel sad sometimes, or angry, or discouraged.”

Sharing Personal Experiences

“We also want to give them lots of examples where we’ve been frustrated. We want them to hear that we also have felt this emotion. This could be when we were in fourth grade. This could be last week. But to say to them, ‘Oh, I remember this one time.’ And then give them the example of when you felt frustrated.”

Heather shared that kids who know their parents have higher self-esteem. She encouraged parents to share parts of you with your kids and know that every time you do, it helps increase their self-esteem. Not only are you helping them build this higher tolerance for frustration, but their esteem raises because they know who we are.

Supporting Instead of Solving

Let’s say you have a teenager who’s sitting at the computer, it’s not working the way they want, and they’re feeling annoyed and frustrated. Their tolerance is low. It’s really normal for us to want to jump in and say, “here, I’ll fix it.”  Heather said you can fix it sometimes, but not every moment has to be a teaching moment. Instead, you can support them as they solve the problem.

“Sometimes we’re going to tie their shoes for them, and we’re going to fix the computer, and we’re going to pack their lunch, and we’re going to erase on the math paper and fix it. Sometimes we are. But when we’re not doing that, we want to look for the ways that we can support it. We do that by just being with them.”

Heather said to validate your kid’s emotions. Say, ‘This is frustrating and it’s irritating and I’m going to sit right here while we figure this out together.’

To contact Heather for counseling, email, or visit

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