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Healthy Ways for Children to Deal With Their Frustrations

Think of all the challenges you successfully face in a day, from navigating through a traffic jam in the morning to helping your children finish their homework at night. Children encounter similar challenges, but often lack the tools for dealing with them in a positive way. Fortunately, parents and educators can help children learn to maneuver through life's twists and turns in healthy ways.

Articulating Emotions

While some children naturally talk about their worries and frustrations, others do not recognize what triggers their anger or they feel confused by a mixture of strong feelings. Katherine A. Briccetti, a school psychologist and author of Blood Strangers: A Memoir, explains that "Most often when children and adults feel anger, that feeling is standing in for or covering over primary feelings. For example, when a child is frustrated (told no, or has trouble accomplishing something), that feeling quickly morphs into anger. When we get our feelings hurt, sometimes we protect ourselves by responding with anger instead of the primary sadness. When we feel hurt, afraid or embarrassed, anger can jump in, take over and cover up those feelings." Recognizing strong feelings, naming them and talking about why we experience them gives children a healthy outlet for understanding and expressing their frustrations.

Honoring Emotions and Expressing Them

Parents and teachers can be quick to quiet down children when they get fussy. Rather than deny the emotion, give the child the time and space to express it in a safe way. Not every child wants to discuss what frustrates him, but he may benefit from using a creative or physical outlet to express his emotions. Your child may deal with his frustrations by writing about what happened, singing a song loudly, playing an instrument, drawing a picture or running around the yard rather than sitting down to talk about what happened.

Taking a Time Out

Parents, caregivers and teachers are familiar with the time out strategy for toddlers having tantrums. However, a time out does not have to feel like a negative consequence. Just as many adults may take a break from a stressful situation at work or home, children can take a break from a frustrating situation.

Hope Meredith, an educator with the Reach Institute for School Leadership, describes the power of a parent or teacher stopping everything to say, "...the emotional climate in the room just got too hot. I need to find out what's going on." Removing the child from the immediate context can diffuse anger and conflict. Giving the child room to breathe and time to reflect is far healthier than what Meredith describes as "punishment and silencing."

MORE: 7 Ways to Deal With Toddler Tantrums


Salina Espinosa-Setchko, a 1st-grade teacher at Oakland's Lincoln Elementary School, knows her students face many frustrations in daily life and at school. To help them get centered and feel more prepared to deal with daily challenges, she starts the morning with a meditation exercise.

She says, "We start the day by 'setting the intention.' We sit in a circle and mediate for a few moments, just breathing together. We connect to Mother Earth and feel her supporting us. We lift our hands to the sky and face our palms outward and declare, 'I am a miracle, I am a gift, I can do anything I set my mind to, I love myself, I accept myself.' We take another deep breath in and we hold hands and declare, 'This is a safe space, we respect each other, we love each other, we are a family.'"

This centering helps prevent possible frustrations before they even begin because the children are already in a more calm and charitable frame of mind--toward themselves and others.

Trying Again

You've heard the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." However, in his article "Parenting: Frustration in Children: Aarrgghh!!," Jim Taylor says this approach can increase frustration. The key to dealing with the frustration of not being able to master a new skill or task is to try again, but in a different way. Otherwise, you just get the same poor results. In some cases, children will have a more positive experience if they "try, try again," but in another venue or on a different day.

MORE: Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

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