How Do We Help Our Kids Handle Frustration?

So, here’s a question I fielded recently, and I thought that it might be helpful to other folks.

Here’s the question that was posed:

How should I react to my 5-year-old son calling me names, such as, stupid, dumb, jerk, and, of course, I hate you? Right now, all I am doing is telling him that he is hurting my feelings and that no one talks to him like that, so why is he treating me with disrespect.

And, some further clarification:

One example will be that I don’t do what he wants fast enough: I’m cooking and he asks for cocoa, and I say, “Give me a minute, babe; I’m cooking,” and he will start yelling at me, “I want it now, stupid mom.”  His triggers are video games not going his way, a Netflix movie not loading, or me not jumping to make him cocoa.

temper-tantrum-cartoonKids have a different boiling point than we adults do, and that can be tricky for us (and for them!). We expect them to be able to deal with their frustrations without dragging other folks into their vortex. In more mainstream parenting, that expectation is enforced and the impulses and behavior subverted with punitive parenting methods and tools. In a more peaceful parenting model, we don’t employ these techniques, and so we have to find other methods to maintain peace and equilibrium in our homes AND help our kids manage their difficult feelings so they can do better for themselves, especially when we are not around to help them.

When my son was little, he handled frustration in this same way. He became volatile, frustrated, and lashed out at the people he felt safest with:  me. Since I am the one who gets to choose how she feels about anything, I opted to feel highly complimented that he felt safe enough with me to show me his feelings-in-the-raw. That perception helped me stay centered and helped me not to take things personally.  (This is one example of how to get out of the way.)

Another mom, Krystal Trammell, gave beautiful perspective on this issue.  She said:

…I take [his behavior] to mean that he has faith in me that I can fix the world for him, and so he’s really upset and confused when this one time, I’m not “fixing it” correctly in his opinion. He’s also not afraid to express his strong opinions to me – he’s not been made to feel that he’s responsible for my emotional reactions – which is a good thing, in my opinion.

So, my first suggestion is take yourself out of this. When he says, “stupid mom,” it’s not about you ~ it’s about him. Since you now know that, you can remain centered and calm and supportive.

What I used to do ~ in the moment ~ was stay lighthearted and honest. Here, I might respond with something like, “Dude! Calling me names is definitely not going to speed this process up! I get that you want this cocoa yesterday! (validation) I’m doing my best!” That lighthearted attitude would spray a little water on the fire and cool things down a little.

Once, I remember saying to him, “When you order me around like that, I get the impression you think of me as your personal slave, and that doesn’t really feel so great. I definitely enjoy when folks say “please” and “thank you.” I didn’t say this because I was hurting. I said it to help him understand that in our society, “please” and “thank you” are great lubricants in our language. He had always heard it modeled because I always spoke to him with the utmost respect; this was my gentle cue for him to implement these tools. I only said it that one time, and since then (he was 4 or 5 years old at the time), he has been a genuinely kind and respectful person ~ to me and to everyone.

Regarding the video game frustration, my suggestion is to validate, validate, validate, and get in there with him and help him any way you can. I would not take the game away!  I would ask him how I can help. If he were to slam the thing, I would help him verbalize his frustration, if that seemed appropriate.  Later, when he was no longer feeling frustrated, I would remind him that because money is kind of extremely tight, I might not be able to replace the equipment if it were to break. Because I trusted that he wants the best possible outcome, we talked about alternative methods for releasing the adrenaline coursing through his body that is responsible for his need to slam his fist on the equipment. And, I would help him with that.

When he was feeling frustrated during video game play, sometimes the last thing he wanted to see was my concerned, helpful face! I had to honor that. I would stay out of the room and let him vent in the way he needed to, trusting him and his process. Sometimes, that would mean going outside and running laps around the house. Then, when he felt better, he would return and we could research a way to get past this part of the game.

The thing is, in everything, I am his partner, his support person. He has a passion to follow ~ I hold space for him and help him do it. Sometimes, that help looks like me getting out of his way, sometimes that help looks like me helping him strategize. Sometimes, that help looks like me tugging his coat and confidentially and respectfully tipping him off as to what is cool and what is not (vis à vis manners, etc.). Then, fully informed, it is entirely his choice how to proceed.


Be well and be kind,


Marji Zintz
The Peaceful Parenting Whisperer
Helping heal and transform parent-child relationships and general life coaching
Office:  845 – 657 – 3111


One response to “How Do We Help Our Kids Handle Frustration?

  1. Pingback: How would you best describe a sensory overload? • Embrace ASD·

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