With the recent shift to at-home learning, parents everywhere are experiencing firsthand their children’s learning styles, habits, and preferences. This includes how their kids deal with success, as well as how they cope with frustration.
Celebrating your child’s success is easy. But how should we help our children navigate setbacks, especially when they are learning at home?
My children have been home from their half-day preschool program for months now, and my five-year-old, Alex, is gearing up for kindergarten in the fall. We recently began making our way through the first set of BOB books for beginning readers. Like many children, some days Alex enjoys reading and is excited and proud of his accomplishments. Other days, reading feels new and challenging. That’s when frustration sets in. For Alex, this looks like whining, avoiding, slouching in a chair, or crying.
Learning to manage and overcome frustration is a valuable skill that builds resilience. Yet helping our children work through their frustration is also a skill that parents can learn and develop. In learning to help our children manage feelings of disappointment and discouragement, we can help ensure that these normal, predictable feelings don’t get in the way of learning or completing the tasks at hand.
Below are five strategies for helping kids manage frustration as they learn at home.
- Recognize what frustration looks like for your child. Frustration may surface as anger, tears, avoidance, lack of engagement, or distractibility. A child might say things like, “I can’t do this!” Once you recognize that your child is frustrated, be sure to note any patterns or trends. Do they become frustrated when they’re working on a particular subject, or at a certain time of day? Does frustration arise after they’ve been seated awhile? Try to identify the circumstances that tend to surround their frustration; you may even want to keep a log to track patterns over time.
- Respond in a calm, consistent way. Witnessing your child’s strong emotions may cause you in turn to feel anxiety, fear, or anger. While these are all normal, understandable reactions, it’s important that you remain calm rather than become visibly upset with your child. When you model how to remain calm, your child will notice. The best thing you can do is to consistently respond in a calm manner, even if your child doesn’t calm down right away.
- Give your child space to talk. Once you have recognized that your child is frustrated, take some time to talk about it. Try to alleviate their stress and anxiety by slowly counting to 10 or practicing mindful breathing. Frustration is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences. Tell your child about a time you have become frustrated and how you coped. Invite your child to do the same; practice active listening as they do so. Once your child begins to open up, try to see if you can get them to talk about their current frustrations. This will help you to gain additional insight into their experience and possible triggers.
- Try something different. Once your child is at the point of frustration, it’s a good signal that something isn’t working. This is a perfect time to take a break or to switch gears, whether this is finding a different task or redirecting your child’s focus. You know your child best, so you can decide if the moment calls for humor, hugs, games, or another approach. It’s important to note that what works in one situation won’t necessarily work in another. For example, sometimes my son needs to laugh and other times he needs a good hug. Be patient and flexible with your child as you discover what they need at that moment.
- Re-evaluate as needed. If you begin to notice that your child tends to become frustrated when working on math problems, try to come up with a new plan. Does your child need a more hands-on approach? Would a different time of day work better for tackling this subject? Does your child need more examples before they join in or try on their own? Flexibility is important as you re-evaluate your plan and make changes that will support your child on their learning journey.
The most important thing to remember is that your child is building resiliency as they work through their emotions, and your job is to remain positive, understanding, and committed to supporting them. Use encouragement and model calm consistency to show your child that they can work through difficult things.
By Caitlin Hardeman, former third through sixth grade teacher specializing in English Language Arts.