How to Respond to a Frustrated Child

By Melinda Kedro
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As a parent, it can be challenging to know how to respond to your child when he is expressing adamant frustration. Jim Taylor, Ph.D. from Psychology Today asserts that frustration is experienced by everyone and begins as a helpful tool for recognizing when a situation requires further effort for proper resolution. If not handled in an effective way, however, frustration can quickly turn to anger, resulting in troublesome behavior. Learning how to help your child manage his frustration can assist with developing life-long skills for self-regulation.

Effective Communication

Step 1

The way in which you approach troubling behaviors with a frustrated child depends on his age. Determine age-appropriate communication methods for your child. Babies and toddlers who cannot yet talk using words need to be approached differently than preschool- and elementary-age children. A baby or toddler expressing frustration is likely experiencing some manner of discomfort such as hunger, being tired or feeling overwhelmed at a particular task. Preschool- and elementary-age children who demonstrate frustration may respond positively to a simple discussion regarding the issue at hand.

Step 2

Do your best to remain calm. Reacting in an equally frustrated manner to your already frustrated child will only escalate the tension. Jim Taylor, Ph.D. from Psychology Today, emphasizes that children learn how to handle frustration by observing how their parents respond to challenging situations. Taylor asserts that by modeling calm and positive behaviors, your child will have an easier time working through his own feelings of frustration.

Step 3

Keep discussions simple and determine the cause of your child's frustration so that you can offer appropriate resolutions. Teach your child simple calming activities that can be utilized during times of heightened aggravation. Breathing exercises such as blowing bubbles, blowing up balloons or deep breathing can help a child calm down. Physical activities like stretching, yoga or squeezing a pillow can help reduce tension. Communicate these strategies to your child and practice them on a regular basis -- even when your child is not feeling frustrated -- in order to integrate a positive approach to handling difficult emotions.

Appropriate Discipline

Step 1

As with your style of communication, it is important to determine the best approach to disciplining a child whose behavior becomes inappropriate on a continual basis. Experiencing feelings of frustration is a completely natural response, but it is essential to teach your child correct ways to work through his frustration and handle his feelings. Sometimes redirection, distracting or offering a logical solution to a problem does not work with a child and further adult action is required to diffuse the situation.

Step 2

Establish relevant consequences for your child's behavior. If you have been working with your child to teach appropriate ways to work through frustration and he continues to act out in disapproving ways, it is important for him to learn that there are consequences for his behaviors. Family specialist and National Network for Childcare member Lesia Oesterreich suggests using timeouts for children ages 3 to 12 years as a way to help children learn which behaviors are inappropriate. Oesterreich also emphasizes the importance of discussing the child's negative behavior that warranted a time-out.

Step 3

Use a timer to provide a tangible and visual representation for how long your child must sit in a timeout. Establish one place in the house such as a chair or corner that is situated away from anything interesting or engaging to the child. According to pediatrician and writer for the American Academy of Pediatrics Barton D. Schmitt, MD -- reporting through the Children's Physician Network -- a timeout should last for one minute per age of the child. For example, a 3-year-old should sit in timeout for 3 minutes, a 4-year-old for 4 minutes. You can also refer to timeout as taking a break, cooling down or quiet time. This will help your child identify that timeout can be a healthy way to calm down.

Observing Progress

Step 1

Use a behavior chart as a visual aid to assist your child in developing awareness regarding how he handles his frustration. Place a sticker, happy face or star onto the chart whenever your child remembers to manage his reactions in a positive way. Keep track of how many stickers he has accumulated and reward him with a special trip to the zoo or movie night once he reaches a predetermined goal. It is important to give ample attention to acceptable behaviors so your child can learn about positive consequences as well.

Step 2

Every evening, review the day with your child to discuss how he handled various situations throughout the day. Always bring attention to the positive behaviors your child displayed during the day. Reiterate the consequences that occurred in different scenarios to help your child understand how his behaviors affected both himself and others.

Step 3

As your child grows a bit older and is able to talk about emotions and recognize feelings in himself and others, encourage him to draw pictures of his varying emotions. Have your child keep a feelings sketchbook or journal and help him keep track of his changing emotions on a daily basis. Developing awareness of emotions is the foundation for learning how to manage frustration when it arises.

About the Author

With more than 10 years experience in early childhood education, Melinda Kedro holds a Masters degree in education, teaching certification through the Association Montessori Internationale and is a licensed childcare provider through the Colorado Department of Human Services.