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Challenging Children and Frustration Tolerance

Frustration tolerance

Do you have a challenging child and frustration tolerance?

Behaviourally challenging children need us to take a close look at our beliefs about challenging behaviours and apply strategies that are often a far cry from ways in which most adults interact with and discipline children who are not behaviourally challenging.

As an applied behaviour analyst therapist, we learnt that there is always a reason for their behaviour and that you had to understand what was the antecedent (the cause) of the behaviour.  Ross Greene also states that “behaviourally challenging children are challenging because they are lacking the skills to not be challenging” (Ross, G.  The Explosive Child).

One of the skills that challenging children lack is frustration tolerance.  Challenging behaviour occurs when the demands being placed upon a child outstrip the skills he/she has to respond to.

What is Frustration?

Frustration is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get frustrated, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and nor-adrenaline.

Frustration can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be frustrated at a specific person (such as a co-worker or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a cancelled flight), or your frustration could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger feelings of frustration.
The instinctive, natural way to express frustration is to respond aggressively. Frustration is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviours, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of frustration, therefore, is necessary to our survival.

On the other hand, we can’t physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our frustration can take us.
Children and adults use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their feelings of frustration. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your feelings of frustration in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express frustration. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.
Frustration can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your frustration, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your frustration and convert it into more constructive behaviour. The frustration in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your frustration can turn inward—on yourself. Frustration turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.
Unexpressed frustration can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of frustration, such as passive-aggressive behaviour (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. Children and adults who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their frustration. Not surprisingly, they aren’t likely to have many successful relationships.
Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behaviour, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.
Frustration for individuals of all stages on the Spectrum and Sensory Processing Disorder can be triggered in so many different ways it is extremely important for parents’ to stop focusing on the actual behaviours and work out what the difficulties are so that they can solve the unsolved problems.   By doing this, not only will unsolved problems be solved but your child will increase their frustration tolerance level and the challenging behaviours will decrease.
Frustration tolerance can be improved with the following strategies:
  • relaxation
  • body regulation
  • deep breathing
  • visualizations
  • changing your thinking
  • problem solving
  • better communication
  • using humour
  • changing environments
  • body mapping

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