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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

Why Won’t My Child Stop Crying?


Oops that’s right, I am meant to say that my child rarely cries.  For those who knows that this is not true keep reading.  For those who still think their child does not cry then you need to email me to tell me how you do it!

Blond Boy Crying

When your child is crying what goes through your head?  Is it why won’t they stop crying?  They are pushing all my buttons?  I can not stand the noise?  I need to escape!!!

How does your crying child make you feel?  Anxious, stressed, sad, frustrated, anger?

Have you ever thought about what is it about their crying that is “pushing your buttons”?

It can be quite helpful to understand why the crying is putting you on edge.  Once we have an idea why this is, you can put a different meaning on the behaviour and you may even find yourself feeling calmer.  It is really stressful when a child is constantly crying (I remember one evening when my hubby came home and his comment was I leave and she is crying and I come home and she is still crying) but attaching a different meaning to it can be very uplifting.

For instance, imagine you are out shopping and your child is crying non stop. Your getting looks from other people, your feeling upset and frustrated and wanting to run away.  But you think to yourself why is this upsetting me? It could be because you were brought up on the fact that children should be seen or not heard.  You constantly think to yourself that people are thinking that you are a hopeless mum.  The list is endless.

There is a program called The Circle Of Security which explains to a parent where on the circle a child could be at any stage.  On one side of the circle is the parent’s hands which is the child’s safe place.  The child moves continually around the circle to stages for instance being happy to go explore, to needing some interaction with an adult, to needing a cuddle and needing to be back in the parents arms.  The diagram shows the circle of security

Circle of security

By having an understanding of where your child may be around the circle may also reduce your frustrations with your child’s crying.

How could this concept help your family?