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How to help a frustrated child.

Some kids seem to come equipped with a natural tolerance for frustration. Some almost seem to be entertained by it! But what do you do when you are gifted with a child who struggles every time they face challenges? How do you help frustrated children?

Model Frustration

I don't mean when you are genuinely frustrated, although that can help too... I mean, whatever activity the child is pursuing, model struggling with THAT activity.

Bubs finds this especially useful! I suspect his feelings are compounded by the fact that he has an older brother very close in age. Perhaps he worries that nothing comes easy to him and EVERYTHING comes easy to big brother? That isn't the case at all, of course, but Sweet Boy doesn't mind a struggle, so Bubs never registers it.

Let's pretend Bubs is working with a puzzle. Sometimes I will ask to play with him. Then I will pick up two pieces I know fit, but I will NOT put them together. I will fumble about, making it appear as if I can't get it to work. I let myself become visibly annoyed but I keep trying. Then I put them to the side and pick up two other pieces that I am positive don't fit. I try to pick two that I know HE knows don't fit together. I struggle with those two pieces. Then I pick two different ones that I know fit and wrestle until I "get it right" and snap them together. I model being right but ineffectual. I model being wrong with patience. I model how LONG perseverance is needed. I DON"T give him a lecture about this. I just let him see me doing it in his world.

Something about watching Mom struggle relaxes his body. He loosens up a little, and I catch him taking big breaths like Mom. I watch him learn to set stuff to the side and try again from another angle. Part of the issue for him seems to be that he is SO determined to get this one thing perfect that he can not give himself the freedom needed to create a solution. Solution finding is a highly creative undertaking! It requires an interesting combination of persistence and patience; willingness to stick to it and willingness to try something else.

Please be aware... this technique will not work if you wait until stage 5 meltdown has started. The idea here is to teach them how to stay at a 2 for longer.

Busy Yourself

One of the main reasons I blog is intimately tied to this topic. My little Ladybug is a walking fuse. She is currently determined that I should be the one to fix her problems. When trying to put a lid on, she will give it a go and then scream mercilessly at her giant underling. If I put the lid on, she will take it off, give it one try and then scream out again. She wants to learn to put on the lid, but if I am perceived to be available to help she can not work up the will power needed to persist.

If I tell her, "Mommy is working. I see how hard that is but I know you can do it if you keep trying!" and then go straight back to work, ignoring any additional pleas, then she will buckle down and figure it out. Here's the kicker, I am POSITIVE she can tell when I am faking it. So I blog now. I have a whole daycare to run now. When she is working, so am I! Win-win! Find the thing that gives you permission to give your little Joy the space needed to get through the rough patches.


It is incredibly important to cultivate an environment that focuses on attempts. Call attention frequently to the things that everyone in the house is working on without referring to the strides being made.

Strides made are obvious and speak for themselves.

Attempts, goal setting, hard work... these things can remain obscured from view for young perfectionists. We have a large circle of friends and playdates, and after we leave each one I like to make a small note to bring up something I saw. "David was working hard to learn to climb that ladder. He kept trying!" Or, "I see Sadie has decided to begin the adventure of learning to ride a bike." "Did you see Papa and Granny practicing their garden skills?" "Mimi and Pop Pop worked as a team to make dinner. I think they tried a new recipe!" "I love that God gives us the ability to learn and grow all our lives. Life would be so boring without something new to learn."

Your mission here is two fold: Fix your focus and fix your language. Now, I don't mean "fix" as if you are doing it incorrectly. I mean your aim. As in "fix your sights on the Lord". Aim your focus. Aim your language. Do you see a child getting it wrong, or do you see a child working hard to learn?

This is INCREDIBLY important. Do you see a toddler dumping out water to be naughty, or do you see a toddler who would love to add cups to his bath time toys? Do you see a 5 year old stealing tools, or do you see a 5 year old pretending to be big like Daddy? As you look at your child, see the things they are learning so that you may fix your sights on growth. (Bonus! Things are far less stressful for you when you get your sight right.)

Now let's chat about language. One of my favorite words is "adventure". Adventures are rife with struggles! That's what makes them fun! We don't go run errands around this house, we go on adventures. Who knows what we will learn? Who knows what will happen? We just know we are super heroes who can run fast and be strong, so bring it on world! If you have a child who is easily frustrated, you will be well-rewarded if you equip them with a fixed vision and super hero expressions.

Another favorite word is "practice". We are not learning how to right a lowercase e, we are practicing. The word learning implies immediate acquisition. The word practicing implies the passage of time and gives space for imperfection.


One of the MOST TEMPTING THINGS when you have a child who's fuse is set short is to jump in and ease the issue. You can't. Really, Mama. You can't. This is the way they were made! God gives us each our own powerful gift and that gift is ALWAYS tied to a struggle.

I happen to talk all the time. (Bet you haven't noticed. hee hee) Without that super power I would not be sitting here typing. If I am not careful, though, I can make my friends and family feel unheard. If I am not careful with my gift, it steamrolls the people around me.

Think about your gift. What is the special talent that God gave you? How does that manifest as a weakness? Are you great at listening? Perhaps you have had to learn not to lose yourself while empathizing with others. Are you a born leader? Always being in front means you are constantly leaned upon to read the direction a group should take. Perhaps it took you a while to learn to gain input from others when it comes to reading that map. Are you a natural teacher? Perhaps you struggle with a touch with pride. You have a gift. We all do! But no coin is one-sided. Consider the major characters in the bible. Don't they all have a struggle? Even Jesus carried a cross.

If you have a child who experiences frustration more than others, it is probably a struggle they will spend a life time conquering. If you watch closely, you will be able to see the other side of the coin. It is quite possible that your Joy is frustrated easily because they naturally set high expectations upon themselves. A strong drive to do well in life is a beautiful thing! The world is better for it!

Perhaps they struggle because they naturally see how good something could be. Without people like this, we would have been content with flip phones years ago. The world has a place in it for people who always see how something can be improved. Your child has a gift to give this world! The other side of that coin is that your child has a struggle associated with this gift. And here is the most important part-- Your child MUST struggle in order to hone those skills associated with their gift. As Jacob wrestled with God and doing good, so do we. It is part of our human adventure. You can not walk your child's path for them.

I recognize that these are not the easy band aides and hacks we have come to expect from bloggers everywhere, but I hope that they give you something better. I hope I have helped you find a solid ground and a vision for your child that strengthens you both.

I hope my journey has inspired your own,

Buckets and Berries


Oct 07, 2020

Thanks, Karen! I consider that a great compliment. I know you are well versed in family members with perfectionism. :D


Oct 06, 2020

The perfectionists are the "movers and shakers" of this world! As long as they can get past their angst in the developmental stages of their work they should have a fabulous outcome. Sometimes the biggest problem is simply to envision the small steps necessary to get from point A-Z in baby steps. We want it done NOW...perfectly! Great info here. Thanks!

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