Helping Our Kids (and Ourselves) Tolerate Frustration
A simple reframe to build resilience through frustration and disappointment.
When we’re kids we’re constantly learning: figuring out multiplication for the first time, a new language, a new musical instrument. All while figuring out how our emotions contend with learning hard things.
For the continuous learners among us, we too are often on some learning curve: launching a new side hustle, figuring out productivity in an all-virtual working world, getting back to a workout routine after an injury.
Being on a learning journey, we are bound to be met with our frustration. Being a parent, we are going to meet our kid’s frustration.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to hear a talk by “Dr. Becky” Kennedy, a clinical psychologist, mom of three, and popular parenting guru. Her insights — compiled in her new book called Good Inside — are a tactical, compassionate framework on parenting. Here’s her hot take on parenting through frustration.
Frustration isn’t just that annoying feeling we trip on when doing hard things. Frustration is super important for learning. The more we (or our kids) feel frustration, the more learning there is. It pushes our limits.
Success is the direct result of our tolerating frustration. Success is the outward expression of internal resilience.
Our job as parents is not to solve their frustration for them. Our job is to help them tolerate the frustration of learning.
Similarly, our kids will feel disappointment, whether not getting selected for the team, or not getting the part they want, or getting a middling grade on something they worked hard on.
Our job is not to solve their disappointment. Saying things to compensate for their disappointment like “it’s no big deal” or assuring them they’re exceptional, sends the message not to be present with that disappointment. Our job is to help them get comfortable with disappointment, and to trust their experience of the emotions adjacent to it.
So, how do we show up for a kid who’s in the thick of frustration or disappointment? Dr. Becky encourages simple presence: “I believe you”; “Tell me more”; and, “There’s something about this that truly doesn’t feel good to you.”
Presence applies for ourselves and our frustration. When I’m writing, flailing for the just-right way to distill something, frustration descends. Especially because I’m juggling responsibilities, so there’s a time crunch. Facing frustration, I get an immediate urge to ditch the writing, take a break, tackle the next project, and return later to the writing. That might work, fresh eyes and all. What I did instead was think, “damn, this is hard — how uncomfortable floundering with this.” And eureka, I realized sharing that here was the missing piece.
Finding ways to help our kids and ourselves tolerate frustration and disappointment is no easy feat. But maybe it’s worth the challenge if it leads to the real lasting resilience we and our kids for sure deserve.