5 Tips to Help Children Tolerate Frustration

Children who don't know how to tolerate frustration suffer, give up in the face of setbacks, and may abandon their goals. We'll tell you how to help them develop this necessary skill.
5 Tips to Help Children Tolerate Frustration
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 05 July, 2023

Tolerating frustration isn’t easy for anyone. We would all like events to be under our control and happen in our favor. That’s why we get discouraged when a project falls apart, a goal isn’t achieved, or we’re denied something we deeply desire. For children, however, it’s more complicated to tolerate frustration because of their cognitive immaturity and lack of psychological resources.

Children’s brains are still developing, and certain functions, such as impulse control, are not yet fully established. Children lack experience and tools with which to manage their emotions, so it’s easier for them to spiral out of control or fall apart in certain situations.

If you want to help your child tolerate frustration, here are some guidelines.

How to help children tolerate frustration

First of all, it’s important to remember that tolerating frustration doesn’t mean not feeling it. It’s impossible for a person (let alone a child) not to become discouraged or angry to some extent in the face of failure or refusal.

To try to eliminate this feeling would only lead to repressing it. Bearing this in mind, what we can do is to teach the little ones not to dramatize and, above all, to learn how to channel this emotion. To do this, you can follow these steps.

A frustrated child
Frustration is part of life. It’s not healthy to try to eliminate it, but it is healthy to try to manage it.

1. Let them get frustrated

To acquire any skill you need practice. If you don’t allow your children to be frustrated, they won’t know how to deal with this emotion when it arises.

Many parents overprotect their children, do everything for them and avoid any challenge with the intention of freeing them from discomfort. However, it is important to allow them these opportunities.

Don’t do for your child what he or she can do for him or herself; don’t indulge his or her every whim or give in to his or her every request if it’s unreasonable. Don’t offer empty praise, either. On the contrary, promote their autonomy, encourage their effort and set the boundaries that you consider healthy and appropriate, even if they make your child uncomfortable.

2. Validate their emotions

The objective is not to eliminate or repress frustration. Your child will feel it on multiple occasions and will need you to accompany them in their discomfort, help them understand, and name what’s happening to him.

For example, imagine that the child is playing with a glass object and you take it away from him so that he or she doesn’t hurt him or herself. This is likely to trigger a tantrum and is natural.

You can support the child at this time by staying calm and using phrases such as “I know you’re angry because you wanted to play with that object, but you can’t because it is dangerous and you could hurt yourself.” Don’t scold or punish the child for expressing his or her disagreement. Allow him or her to feel and help him or her understand and channel what he or she feels.

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3. Encourage an active and positive attitude

Tolerating frustration doesn’t mean resignation. These challenging moments are ideal for encouraging children to take an active attitude toward circumstances.

For example, if the child has lost in a sports competition, encourage the child to ask him or herself, “What can I do differently to get better results next time?”

This is also an opportunity to learn to negotiate. For example, if your child wants to go to the movies, but you’ve told him or her no because you have to finish chores around the house, he or she can offer to help you with it so you’ll be free sooner.

This encourages a growth mindset (where the child understands that he or she can improve, learn and thrive), rather than a fixed mindset (where he or she assumes his or her possibilities are limited and there’s nothing to be done about it).

Like this article? You may also like to read: What to Do When Children Prefer One Parent Over the Other

4. Teach emotional regulation tools

Children who have trouble tolerating frustration may react with anger, uncontrolled crying, and even aggression. This happens because they’re unable to regulate their emotions or reduce their arousal.

You can offer your child certain tools to use during these difficult times. For example, teach them simple breathing exercises or create a safe corner at home where they can go to calm down.

girl meditation to tolerate frustration
Children can learn from parents some useful techniques to help them manage moments of frustration.

5. Set goals and encourage perseverance

Finally, to help children tolerate frustration, it’s important to find a balance. If we’re too authoritarian, always criticizing them and demanding too much, we generate fear, discomfort, and demotivation. On the contrary, if we’re too permissive, we don’t allow them to learn.

The key is to set learning objectives adjusted to their age and abilities, so that they can meet them and succeed, even if they need perseverance and several attempts. Assigning responsibility at home and creating art or creative projects with children are two good ways to give them the opportunity to tolerate mistakes and frustrations.

Helping children tolerate frustration is preparing them for life

This is one of the main lessons that all parents of young children need to tackle. Your children need to learn to manage frustration in order to handle life.

School, personal relationships, hobbies, work… all areas present us with challenges and we won’t always meet them the first time. They have to be prepared to face setbacks and change direction without sinking emotionally. What better way than to learn it from your hand in the safe environment that is their home?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hochanadel, A., & Finamore, D. (2015). Fixed And Growth Mindset In Education And How Grit Helps Students Persist In The Face Of Adversity. Journal of International Education Research (JIER)11(1), 47–50. https://doi.org/10.19030/jier.v11i1.9099
  • Klenberg, L., Korkman, M., & Lahti-Nuuttila, P. (2001). Differential development of attention and executive functions in 3-to 12-year-old Finnish children. Developmental neuropsychology20(1), 407-428.
  • Thompson, C. (2021). The Impact of a Classroom Calm Down Corner in a Primary Classroom. NWCommons. Recuperado 2022, de https://nwcommons.nwciowa.edu/education_masters/302/

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.