Please, frustrate your kids!

In my counselling practice I am often consulted by parents seeking counselling for their children for  being  “out of control” or “explosive.”  Sometimes,  it is not really anger that is the issue, but the inability to deal with frustration.  Here are some thoughts on frustration and why it is important to allow our children to deal with low levels of frustration.

We live in such a world of plenty.  Essentially our kids are never in want of anything.  Many of us easily provide all the necessities of life for our children, plus all of their wants.   We enjoy giving to our children things and experiences in order to please them.   Underlying it all, it is one way we show our love.   However, when we meet every single one of our child’s wants and needs we deny them developing a very important life skill.  We deny them the ability to adapt.  When faced with a time they do not get their wants met they have little resource for adapting and moving on.  When faced with a really big frustration they may respond in ways that do not serve them well because they have not had practice in dealing with small frustrations.

Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate in “Hold on to Your Kids” discuss the emotional process of frustration and why it is so important.  They propose that frustration teaches us to be adaptive.  When the emotion of frustration runs its natural course it dissolves into a feeling of futility, and then sadness.  This is actually a good thing.  It is a very human and natural way to adapt to and learn to deal with what we cannot control, rather than respond with resistance and aggression.  We adapt when we are able to change our “self” when realizing the present circumstances are not changeable.

The emotional gears are meant to change from frustration, to a sense of futility, to sadness.  When a child gets “stuck” in frustration and is unable to shift gears, he responds with anger and aggression.  More often than not, angry children are stuck children.  They are children who get stuck in frustration and unable to adapt.  The most obvious example of this is the tantruming preschooler, although in my counselling practice I work with many families with older children who are not successfully dealing with their frustrations and may be said to be like tantruming preschoolers.  It is when a child learns the shift from frustration to futility, and then to sadness, he comes to rest and finds acceptance.  This is a very human and necessary process to be able to accomplish.  Our children may face many frustrations in life and our hope is that they learn to adapt, feel, and come to rest.

So, how do parents help? Allow your children small frustrations that you are sure they can handle.  Say no sometimes, just for the sake of saying no.  As your child learns to deal with small manageable frustrations, it teaches them a deep emotional process that will serve them well when bigger frustrations are experienced.


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