Being a Toddler Can Be Frustrating – And That’s Great!Playing with toys can be frustrating for children – whether it’s an infant trying to scoot toward a tantalizing object or a toddler trying to piece together her first LEGO® DUPLO® set. The juvenile brain wants more than the body is capable of achieving, and that limitation is pretty annoying!
While seeing your child frustrated can be emotional, rest assured that frustration is a completely normal part of growing up – as well as an essential component of development. Toddlers learn through trying things out. If something doesn’t work, they need to feel that frustration in order to try something different and move on to the next step.
That doesn’t mean watching your toddler get frustrated is easy – especially when it can so quickly devolve into the dreaded tantrum. Your toddler might get frustrated because she can’t communicate what she wants. Or because she can communicate what she wants but you’ve told her “No”. Or because she has a clear idea of what she wants, but doesn’t yet have the skills to achieve it. Or let’s face it – sometimes your toddler gets frustrated because she changed her mind and you haven’t yet developed mind-reading skills.
Although it can go against parental instincts, letting toddlers experience that frustration to work through it themselves is beneficial. Frustration helps children achieve success through trial and error. They learn how to be persistent and tenacious. And they learn coping skills that help them deal with future frustrations.
While it’s important for your child to learn to deal with frustration independently, you don’t want to make the situation worse. You can help in a number of ways (pick one to try when you next need it, depending on your time frame and energy levels!)
Stand your ground. When your child is tantruming (perhaps not a real word, but feel free to use it!), your instinct may sometimes be to acquiesce to her demands and get it over with (especially when you’re out in public). But it’s actually best to let the emotions run their course. You don’t want to reinforce the behavior by giving into it, but you also don’t want to invalidate her feelings by shutting them down. Instead try to remain patient and calm when she is upset.
Narrate. Sometimes narrating your toddler’s frustration can be helpful. For instance “You really wanted that LEGO DUPLO brick to fit there, but it didn’t fit! It was the wrong size! I can see that’s making you feel frustrated!” Simple narration can help your child feel understood, which in turn can help calm her down.
Just ask. You can also check in with your child to see what she needs. Try asking “Do you want some time alone, or would you like a hug?” That simple compassion can work wonders. Give your child the chance to decide for herself whether she needs space to work things out, or if she could really use a little Mommy or Daddy comfort.
Above all – try not to get frustrated with yourself if you don’t end up following these guidelines perfectly. Tantrums can be overwhelming, sending parents into panic mode. Just remember – the frustration underlying those tantrums is a really good thing.