How to cope with frustration in children

A basic guide to helping children cope with difficult situations.

child care


Throughout our lives, we all have to face situations that do not meet our needs or expectations and, therefore, can cause frustration.

In order to learn to live with these situations, and to try to let them affect us as little as possible, it is important for children to be taught how to do so from a very early age, in order to become independent adults. And, precisely, one of the things that will help them to achieve that independence is their capacity to deal with frustration.

Until quite recently, it was believed that children should not be exposed to difficult or unpleasant situations and so these were avoided at all cost. However, nowadays we know that it is useful for children to be faced with low levels of frustration from a young age. Teaching them by showing them how to overcome adversity, accept failure and look for solutions for themselves, will make them stronger and more independent.

What does tolerance towards frustration mean?

When a child wants to do something, and adults prevent him, when he competes with other children for the same goal or privilege, or when he finds out that he cannot do something by himself, then he becomes angry and irritated, and feels frustrated.

Frustration is the emotional reaction that arises in situations where we do not get what we want. When we do not reach an objective that we were aiming for, then negative feelings such as rage, distress or disappointment are common.

How can we teach tolerance towards feelings of frustration?

Learning to handle these emotions, while remaining positive and accepting that we do not always get what we want immediately, creates tolerance towards frustration.

Children who are brought up in a permissive and overprotective environment tend to be more demanding, expecting their needs to be satisfied immediately; they are more impatient, and they tend to have temper tantrums more often than other children of the same age.

The child’s parents and teachers should expose him or her to small doses of frustration, but always coming from a place of comprehension and caring. It is important that this training be progressive. Exposing a child to a highly frustrating situation all at once could provoke a hostile reaction in any child.

10 steps towards teaching your child to cope with frustration

  • Set out and explain to the child the reasons for their frustration.
  • Make them aware of their feelings.
  • Help them to verbalise these feelings.
  • Do not blame them, normalise the process.
  • Model situations in which an adult can also feel frustrated, and explain how they would cope with this.
  • Help them to differentiate between wants and needs, making them aware that they cannot always get everything they want.
  • Help them to comprehend the things that they can and cannot achieve, and also the different ways in which they could get them.
  • Teach them to bear in mind and respect the wishes and needs of others.
  • Teach them to lose gracefully, do not always let them win.
  • Guide them so that they achieve things through their own, personal efforts and learn how to share them.

The right ingredients, both for a child as well as for an adult, to help them to cope with emotionally difficult situations are: support, comprehension and love.

Bringing up a child is a complex process, and one in which we not only have to encourage the development of suitable behaviour and skills that will help them throughout their life, but also to prevent those which are inappropriate or dysfunctional.

Parents and teachers must have the right behavioural training in order to deal with this process in a child’s education. This training will enable them to not expose a child to an excessive amount of frustrating situations, nor deprive the child of the possibility of learning to cope with their problems with a positive, resolute attitude.