Grit is an essential skill for children. So important, in fact, that we’ve covered this topic not once, but twice. There is a wealth of information out there on how to cultivate grit in our students but what if the child melts down at the first sign of opposition? Unfortunately, what works for a typical child in building grit isn’t as effective when kids have a low tolerance for frustration. For example, one strategy we discussed in our previous blog talks about giving good feedback to kids to help encourage the progress they’re making. However, when children meltdown before any progress can be made, there isn’t anything to give feedback on.
No one knows for sure why some kids tolerate frustration better than others but we must develop some understanding of frustration so that we can better understand where students are coming from. Frustration is an emotion that everyone feels, but for some kids, it comes quickly and is overwhelming. Kids usually feel frustrated when their expectations are not met. They might expect to quickly master a concept or have an expectation that they receive something and when that expectation isn’t met or isn’t met quickly, frustration is the result. Children can learn to tolerate frustration more effectively and these kids can learn to develop grit. The following strategies are tailored to the needs of children who struggle to tolerate frustration.
- Change Your Mindset: Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., and author of The Explosive Child, has extensively studied children who poorly tolerate frustration (and their subsequent explosions.) In his book, he discusses the ways that we view ‘explosive children’ or those that meltdown the moment things don’t go the way they want them to. These kids often get labeled as brats at worst and immature at best. We tend to view their behavior as willful defiance rather than a delay in skill. This change in mindset, along with believing that “children do well if they can” helps us see kids behavior in a new light. When you see a child’s tantrum as a result of a lack of skills it is far less aggravating than if you believe they are being difficult on purpose. It also gives us a direction to go in: teaching those skills!
- Choose the Right Time to Teach: Teaching skills is possible, but not in the middle of an emotional meltdown. When children are in the middle of an emotional response, tantrum, etc. they aren’t capable of such reasoning. The teaching of skills is better done at a time when the child is calm and happy.
- Teach Realistic Expectations: Some children believe that everything should come easily to them. When they encounter something hard, they give up. Give them examples of times when others have struggled and overcome. Point out that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
- Be Intentional About Teaching Frustration Tolerance: Start small and keep the stakes low starting out. For example, games with no winner or loser can help children learn to be wrong without the higher stakes of losing or winning.
- Address Black and White Thinking: All children tend to think in extremes. Good and bad, right and wrong, black and white. This is especially true for children who struggle to tolerate frustration. Roleplay, read stories and discuss situations with children that are not black and white. Help them to see gray areas.
- Take the Punch Out of Emotions: The first step in helping kids learn to master their emotions is to build their emotional vocabulary. Help them learn to name them and to talk about them. Emotions feel overpowering and people, especially children, often feel compelled to react immediately to their emotions. Teach kids that their emotions are just feelings and that their actions are separate from their feelings.
- Teach Kids to Ask for Help: When they start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated, teach kids to ask for help. Be sure they understand that asking for help is ok. Build a relationship with students so they feel comfortable coming to you for help.
It might take some time and persistence for children to incorporate their new skills, but once they do our other tips on cultivating grit can help them to begin to persist through the hard stuff.
If you are interested in teaching your child (or students) the importance of hard work and soft skills check out our curriculum Making the Effort.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.